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Thailand and the Netherlands arrive in Manila

Manila, Philippines , June 28, 2005 – Southeast Asia Volleyball power Thailand and the Netherlands are scheduled to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday, underlining their readiness for the Manila leg of the 2005 FIVB World Grand Prix Women's Volleyball Championship which runs from July 1-3 at the Philsports Arena.

Thailand, no. 17 in the FIVB world rankings, has won the women's Volleyball title in the SEA Games every year since 1995 and will be defending their crown for a record sixth time in this year's SEAG in Manila. The Netherlands, meanwhile, are ranked no. 14 and are widely considered as one of the European Volleyball powers.

The Thais and the Dutch will arrive in Manila from Ningbo, China, where they competed with the United States and hosts China, recording a 0-3 and 2-1 return respectively.

The two other participants in the three-day event organized by the Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association (PAVA) - three-time Olympic champions Cuba and world no. 4 and last year's runner’s up Italy - are set to arrive on Wednesday.

"This is a good opportunity for our women's Volleyball team to see the Thai team up close once again,” FIVB Development Officer and PAVA officer Ramon "Tats" Suzara said. “We may not beat them in the SEA Games, but at least our team can learn something from them and from the rest of the field,".

In its bid to improve on its tenth-place finish last year, Thailand has gone for a tall line-up this year with Patcharee Sangmuang and Pluemjit Thinkaow, both 5-foot-11 tall, and Nurak Nokputta, Narumon Khan-An, Wanna Burkaew and Nootsara Tomkom leading the way.

Thailand coach Sutichai Chanbunchee said the inclusion of taller players in his team made his side more competitive. The Thais placed fourth behind China, Japan and Korea in the 2003 Asian Championships and was a gold medalist in the 2000 SEA Senior Women's Volleyball.

The Dutch, on the other hand, boast a solid defence, which was the key to their qualification in this year’s World Grand Prix. Former national player Avital Selinger, who won a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, has been tapped to handle the Dutch team which has been training since last year.

The Cubans, owners of four World Championship titles, will return to the scene of their triumph back in 1993, where they won their second and last World Grand Prix title at the Philsports Arena.

Cuba faces a strong challenge from Italy, who, despite missing key players Manuela Leggeri (best blocker) and spiker Elisa Togut, boast plenty of promising talent including Jenny Barazza, Nadia Centoni, Simona Gioli and Eleonora Lo Bianco.

Under coach Marco Bonitta, the Italians won the 2002 World Championships and finished fifth in the Athens Olympics.

Cash prizes at stake in the tournament are US$35,000 for the champion; US$25,000 for the runner-up; US$20,000 (third) and US$15,000 (fourth).

Other countries competing in this year's World Grand Prix are defending champion Brazil, Japan, Korea, Poland, Germany, Dominican Republic and China.

The Manila leg will be held simultaneously with the Seoul and Macau legs. First week eliminations were held from June 24-26 in the cities of Tokyo (Japan), Reggio Calabria (Italy) and Ningbo (China). The hosts for the third week (July 8-10) are Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Thailand.

The finals will return to Japan (Sendai City) where the top six teams, including the host country, will play a round robin format from July 13-18 to decide the 2005 World Grand Prix champion.