China's Yanan Liu, Shan Li and Kun Feng celebrate (from left to right)
Reggio Calabria, Italy, September 6, 2006: Olympic champions China beat Cuba 3-1 in Pool A on the opening day of the 2006 FIVB World Grand Prix Final Six on Wednesday.
The Chinese, who won this tournament in 2003, displayed more consistency in defence and attack to come home 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 25-16.
Rallies were few and far between in the first set as the scoreboard moved along at a rapid rate.
China settled into their groove quickly, and Wang Yimei bulldozed through the Cuban block on regular occasions. The 1.96-metre Xu Yunli was also causing problems, and pierced the Cuban defence with a vicious angled drive across court after running round setter Feng Kun.
Leading 16-9 at the second TTO, China were well in control, but a fired-up Daimi Ramirez belatedly got Cuba moving. With stronger blocking and more movement in attack, Cuba pulled to within one point on a couple of occasions.
Trailing 20-19, Cuba then self-destructed with a wild serve from Yenisey Gonzalez and a complete breakdown in communication at the net, forcing head coach Felipe Calderon to call a TO with his team now down by three.
It was too late, as China had regained the initiative. Yang Hao poked one over into space to bring up set point, and Li Shan's spike from the right wwas too good for the Cuban block, as China took the opening frame 25-19.
Cuba regrouped and started the second set strongly, leading 8-5 at the first TTO. China battled back to pull level, thanks to more bright play from Li Shan, but from 11-11 Cuba really hit their stride.
Liana Mesa and Rosir Calderon found their way through China's red wall of blockers, and a Nancy Carrillo thunderbolt down the middle put the Cubans ahead by four, 16-12, at the second TTO.
But Cuba could not keep it going, and China drew level again. At 20-20 it was anyone's set, but some inspired play from Carrillo earned the next two points and China called a TO behind 22-20.
Mesa brought up set point with a fierce drive on the right, and then closed out the second set 25-21 with a delicate drop-shot into space with the China defence scattered.
Yang refreshed China in the third set with some booming serves, throwing the Cuban attack off balance for a while, but it wasn't long before Calderon hit back with some searing winners from the left at the summit of her elegant jump. Mesa joined in the fun with a blistering jump-serve ace.
Inspired by Liu Yanan, China led 16-14 at the second TTO and won four straight points from 16-16 to pull ahead by four going into the home stretch.
Trailing 23-19, it looked to be over for Cuba, but Carrillo's booming jump serve brought her team right back into it, and an ace left China with a one-point lead at 23-22 and needing a TO. The break worked, and Wang closed out the set 25-23 on China's first opportunity.
In the fourth set, China jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to some excellent blocking and incredible defence from captain Feng and libero Zhang Na, and they extended this to an imposing 10-1.
Once again it was Carrillo who dragged Cuba back, and her devastating serves closed the gap to 12-7 and prompted a China TO.
Leading 16-10 at the second TTO, China marched on and took the set 25-16 and an open, entertaining match 3-1. Xue Ming scored some crucial points at the net to secure the inevitable victory.