Yokohama, Japan, July 10, 2008 - World No. 1 Brazil and Cuba remained as the only unbeaten teams at the 2008 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals after recording their second straight victories at the Yokohama Arena on Thursday. The 2007 World Cup bronze medallists USA came from behind to beat hosts Japan in five sets for their first win in the six-team round-robin tournament.
Six-time World Grand Prix champions Brazil swept world No. 2 Italy 25-20, 25-17, 25-23 in the second match of the second day to improve their win-loss record to 2-0, while the 2007 FIVB World Cup winners dropped to 1-1.
Nevertheless, the Brazilians were not carried away by the commanding victory. "Of course I am very happy with my team. We played very well today, but I do not forget that Italy is not complete. They missed two important players (Simona Gioli and Antonella Del Core), so it is not the complete team of Italy," said Brazil Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes.
Earlier on Wednesday, Cuba blocked China's awesome firepower for 20 stuffs to add a 25-21, 20-25, 26-24, 25-16 victory to Wednesday's opening 3-1 triumph over Japan, sending the reigning Olympic champions to their second loss in two days.
"Their blockers did a really good job today," admitted China Head Coach Chen Zhonghe, "while we could not find our rhythm in attack and had big trouble with our combination."
Cuba Head Coach Antonio Perdomo attributed his team's victory to high quality serves. "Today we played very well, especially on serve. It was really good, and that was the most important point of today's game."
The Americans, who were swept by Brazil on Wednesday, twice bounced back from one set down to wear down Japan 26-28, 25-20, 22-25, 25-20 and 15-11.
"It was a very hard game today. Even I sweated a bit," said USA Head Coach "Jenny" Lang Ping. "I think it is a great experience for us how you play this kind of hard game when you are behind, especially with Japan 2-1 ahead."
In the match between Brazil and Italy, the world's top two teams treated the spectators to a spectacular Volleyball exhibition. Francesca Piccinini, who scored 27 points the previous day against China, picked up from where she left off by producing a series of winners on the left.
In reply, Brazil displayed dizzying combinations as Walewska Oliveira's decoy jump allowed Paula Pequeno to score perfectly. Sheilla Castro impressed on block, denying Manuela Secolo, and on attack with her fluid movement on the right.
Brazil led 8-7 at the first TTO, and Mari Steinbrecher nudged them further ahead with an athletic jump and spike. The defense of both teams was first class, and Martina Guiggi pulled Italy level 13-13 with a crashing block on Thaisa Menezes.
Guiggi, who had served an ace early in the match, then popped up in attack to score with her trademark spike across court from the right. Brazil captain and setter Fofao won a net joust to keep her team ahead, and lightning defense on the base line from Pequeno led to another Brazil point.
Trailing 18-16, Italy called a TO as Brazil raised the tempo. As Italy tried to catch up, Aguero's attack was met by the Brazil block, and Italy went off again at 21-17.
Castro pushed one over for 23-19, at which point Italy sent in defense dynamo Paola Croce for Jenny Barazza. A Steinbrecher block brought up set point at 24-19, and the same player finished it 25-20.
Italy, who had made only three errors in the first set, fought back well in the second set and led 8-6 at the first TTO. At 8-8, Aguero flashed one over from the right, but Brazil countered with a Walewska special at the net. Then Italy began to make too many errors on attack. Brazil surged ahead 16-11 at the second TTO and went on to clinch the set 25-17.
In the third set, Italy overcame an early 11-6 deficit to pull it back at 13-all behind Guiggi. Then it was fiercely contested until Steinbrecher made it 23-22 with a kill and a missed shot of Piccinini gave Brazil a two-point cushion. Italy beat off a match point to pull within 24-23, only to see Sheilla Castro land the winner for Brazil and conclude the match in one hour and six minutes.
"I would like to congratulate the Brazil team. I think they played a very, very good match today," said Italy Head Coach Massimo Barbolini. "Brazil is superior in all situations of the game, overall in spike and defense, so the result is the most right that is possible."
Coming off a grueling five-set loss to Italy, China started slowly against Cuba, struggling with their reception early in the first set. Daimi Ramirez teamed up with Rachel Sanchez to stop Wang Yimei and then drove a spike off the block out of bounds to push Cuba up at 9-6. The Chinese answered with two consecutive points, but some more impressive blocking efforts of Ramirez and Sanchez helped Cuba enlarge their lead to 17-11 on the back of an 8-3 run.
China showed their mettle towards the end of the first set, staving off three set points to cut it to 24-21, but Cuba converted on the fourth through a kill of Ramirez.
In the second set, China improved their reception to get their offense going. Two smart dinks from the 1.90-meter Wang gave China the edge at 7-6, but Cuba reeled off three points in a row to overtake the lead at 9-7. Staying within 14-12, the Chinese Women surged ahead with an 8-1 burst thanks to consecutive smashes from Wang and never looked back.
The third set was hotly contested with the two teams trading point by point late in the set for a 24-all tie. Zoila Barros slammed a ball home to give Cuba the edge before Yumilka Ruiz beat Feng Kun for the set winner following an effective block against middle hitter Ma Yunwen.
The Chinese collapsed in the fourth set, where Cuba jumped to a 12-7 lead and cruised to the victory, 25-16.
Rosir Calderon collected 16 points to lead five Cuban attackers in double scoring digits.
Roared on by more than 7,000 home fans, Japan started strongly in the last match of the day. Displaying their standard blitz attack, the Japanese were able to build a 16-14 lead and held it to 21-19 in the first set.
The error-plagued Americans woke up to play some good blocking and overtake the lead 23-22 after a 4-1 run, but the Japanese were strong enough to survive two set points for a 26-25 advantage and Erika Araki stuffed Tayyiba Haneef-Park to seal the see-saw set 28-26.
When the Americans became more comfortable with the quick combination of Japan, they gradually showed their domination over the net in the second set. The United States used a 5-0 run to go up 8-3 in the first TTO and held it to 22-15.
The game became interesting when Miyuki Takahashi and Saori Kimura combined for three straight points to pull Japan within 22-18, forcing Lang Ping to call a TO. After the game resumed, Kimberly Glass landed a cross-court shot to end the scoring drought of her side before a Haneef-Park spike awarded the set to the United States 25-20.
The Japanese rediscovered their tenacious defense to win the third set, while the Americans rallied for the victory in the fourth to force the tiebreaker.
Japan stayed within 11-10 in the decisive fifth set, only to see the Americans pull away after two consecutive solid blocks against Takahashi and Kurihara, respectively. Kurihara made it 14-11, but Haneef-Park showed no mercy in landing the winner for the United States.
"I think the players worked very hard. Of course there are many technical things we need to improve, but this is the fourth week of the Grand Prix and we are looking a little tired and a little slow and we need to use more technique to make up," said Lang Ping.Danielle Scott-Arruda led the United States with 22 points and Haneef-Park added 20 in the marathon match that lasted two hours and 10 minutes.