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Cuba team to beat in Manila

Manila, the Philippines, June 30, 2005 - The last time Cuba won the World Grand Prix was way back in 2000 when the finals were held in Manila. This year, the three-time Olympic medalists will be using the Manila leg as a springboard for a possible third title when the 2005 FIVB World Grand Prix kicks off Friday at the Philsports Arena (formerly ULTRA) in Pasig City.

The Cubans, who won their first Grand Prix title in 1993, remain the sentimental favorite to claim the Manila leg after topping the first leg in Reggio Calabria in Italy last weekend, which they ruled after winning all three matches.
Pic: Cuba will play Italy for the second week in a row
Led by the veteran Yumika Ruiz and top rookie Zoila Barros, Cuba swept past Germany, the Dominican Republic and hosts Italy – all via three setters. Germany was the first to fall (29-27, 27-25, 27-25), followed by the Dominican Republic ( 28-26, 27-15,25-18) and Italy (27-25, 25-20, 30-28).

The victory enabled the Cubans to amass a total of six ranking points in a tie with China and Brazil,
who topped the Ningbo, China and Tokyo, Japan legs, respectively, in the same week.

But after hearing Cuba coach Felix Calderon Biet say it, the Cubans' chances of topping the Manila leg are the same as anybody else's.

"All the teams that are here are hard to beat, because all these teams have prepared well for this
tournament. Cuba also has new young players so it's really hard to say. But we'll do our best," said Biet during the press conference held yesterday at the Manansala Room at the Holiday Inn Manila Galleria, the tournament official hotel.

Italy, who settled for runner’s-up honors behind Cuba only a week ago, is looking to avenge the painful loss to the Cubans. The Italians beat the Germans and the Dominican Republic for a 2-1 score and five ranking points in a tie with Japan. And for coach Marco Bonitta, the Manila leg is a good opportunity to come up with an even better performance. "We hope to play better here and improve our play, and if possible, win all three matches," said Bonitta, whose team placed second behind Brazil last year in the finals held in their homecourt in Reggio Calabria.

Admittedly the top favorites here, the Cubans and the Italians will still have to get past a tall the
Netherlands team, and Thailand, a potential crowd favorite being the country's next-door neighbor in Southeast Asia.

The Dutch have never figured in the top three of the Grand Prix but have always figured well in the Olympics and other tournaments in Europe. But coach Avital Selinger said his team must play consistently to be at par with the other teams in the Grand Prix calendar.

"We have to play consistently and maintain a top level of play because that's seem to be the problem of the team. At times we play well, and there are times that we don't play as well. But I believe we have the potential to play alongside the best talents in the world," said Selinger, whose team upset the United States and beat Thailand in the Ningbo, China leg to gather five ranking points.

Lastly, the Thais, who had won every SEAG women's volleyball crown since 1995, said they do not expect to beat any team any team in the Manila leg. "We don't expect to beat any team here, but we feel blessed to be able to play the best teams in the world," said coach Sutchai Chanbunchee.

The Thais, the only Southeast Asian team in the Grand Prix, have 17 players listed in their line-up and coach Chanbunchess said most of these players will see action in the 23rd Manila SEA Games in November.