Tokyo, August 1, 2007 - Kazakhstan face a daunting debut in the FIVB World Grand Prix against Japan on Friday night – and they just can’t wait to get out there.
“Playing Japan in Japan in our first Grand Prix match is going to be a great experience,” team manager Yermek Syrlybayev said during Kazakhstan’s official training session in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.
“It is good for us. Why not?
“In the Grand Prix we must play the best teams in the world, so it is not a problem. This is why we are here. The Japanese spectators know volleyball very well and appreciate good volleyball by all teams.
“It is going to be difficult, but who knows what will happen? All is possible. It is all about who plays better on the day.”
Kazakhstan will be making their Grand Prix debut after Thailand pulled out because they are hosting the World University Games this summer and could not commit their strongest team. This has given Kazakhstan the chance to make a quick return to Japan, following their World Championship appearance last October-November.
“We played in the World Championship for the first time last year and now are playing in the Grand Prix for the first time, so we are moving step by step,” added Syrlybayev.
“We know Japan quite well from playing in the Asian Championship two years ago and the Asian Games last year, but it is the first time to play Cuba and the Dominican Republic in an FIVB world event.
“They are strong teams from their zone – but this means we are new to them also.”
Although Kazakhstan collected only one win in their five World Championship pool matches in Kobe, against Cameroon, they lost by only 3-2 to both the United States and the Netherlands.
“Against the United States we were ahead 8-1 in the tiebreak but lost it 16-14,” the team manager recalls.
“We did not have the experience, the right mentality, at this level, but I do not think we will have the same psychological problem this time.”
The Kazakh players are all attached to the Rahat club in Almaty, and beat Japanese champions Hisamitsu Springs on their way to winning the Asian women’s club championship in Vietnam in June.
Yelena Pavlova was the MVP and best spiker of the eight-team tournament, and she captains the national team in the Grand Prix. Although listed as Rahat players, several of them have experience of playing in other European leagues, for example France, Russia, Turkey, Serbia, Spain and Switzerland.
“We have many good young players in Kazakhstan, so when the top players go to Europe it is not a problem. In fact it is good for the national team because they get good experience,” said Syrlybayev.
Kazakhstan beat Japan 3-2 in the 2005 Asian Championship semi-finals in China, but Japan reversed that scoreline at the 2006 Asian Games – the continent’s Olympics held every four years – in Qatar last December.
“They were very good matches. Now we will see what happens in the Grand Prix,” Syrlybayev said.