Yokohama, Japan, July 13, 2008 - Brazil earned a hard-fought 3-0 victory over hosts Japan Sunday evening to win their seventh World Grand Prix title with a perfect 5-0 record as the 2008 edition of the women's Volleyball gala lowered its curtain at Yokohama Arena. Cuba rallied past World No. 2 Italy 3-1 for the silver while the United States held off reigning Olympic champions China 3-2 to finish fourth.
With the 25-23, 25-23 and 25-19 victory over the fighting hosts, the Brazilians crowned in the six-team round robin where they dropped only one set. Their earlier Grand Prix titles came in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Brazil's Marianne Steinbrecher, who scored 12 points in the last match, won the award of the Most Valuable Player.
"We were expected to win the Grand Prix after beating Cuba yesterday, but still we had to pay attention not to lose this last match and continue to compete at a high-level," said Brazil head coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes. "We have many things to do. I do not like the Brazil defence. I think we have to be better in Beijing. The block is good, but on the counter-attack we made many mistakes. In general we played well here and I expect we can maintain the same level at the Olympics as we played here."
In the second match of the day, Cuba recovered from a slow start to beat Italy 28-30, 25-18, 25-23 and 25-19 for their fourth win, finishing just behind Brazil in the Grand Prix Final Round.
"I am glad to win this match, but in the preliminary round we lost against Italy so I think the result just depends on which team plays that bit better on the day," said head coach Antonio Perdomo. "Yesterday Brazil's serve worked very well and we could not play our own game, but today we served well and covered the Italian team. I think it is really good for us to fight in such a high-level game."
Earlier on Sunday, the United States ended the World Grand Prix Final Round on a high note, outlasting China 25-23, 25-19, 22-25, 21-25 and 17-15. Sharing a 2-3 win-loss record with Italy, the Americans ranked fourth behind the Azzurre due to disadvantage in points win-loss ratio.
"All the teams are very close right now and the result could go either way," said the United States' Chinese head coach Lang Ping. "We played well but we also had some luck today. We need to improve our level and reduce unforced errors and try to play more consistently."
Roared on by 12,500 home fans, Japan fought bravely against Brazil to stay within 19-18 in the first set before the unbeaten South Americans staged a 4-1 run to enlarge their lead to 23-19 thanks to a block of Walewska Oliveira and Sheilla Castro against Megumi Kurihara and consecutive spiking mistakes of the Japanese.
After Kurihara came back for a smash to cut it to 23-20, Paula Pequeno made it 24-20. The tenacious Japanese staved off three set points to pull within 24-23, but a serve error of Kurihara awarded the opener to Brazil. The story of the first set was cloned in the second. Again the Brazilians were 24-20 before two spikes of Kurihara and a block on Pequeno Trailing helped Japan make it one-point game. On their fourth set point, Fofao delivered the ball to the right side for Castro, who slammed home for the set winner. In the third set, Brazil surged away from 17-15 and never looked back. Castro led Brazil with 16 points and Pequeno and Steinbrecher added 13 and 12, respectively.
"Compared with the Athens Olympics, in this competition the players could keep their motivation and we picked up many hints for competing in the Beijing Olympics," said Japan head coach Shoichi Yanagimoto. "The time before the Beijing Olympics is limited, so we should check the problems we have come across in this competition."
The first set of the match between Cuba and Italy was also fiercely contested until the Italians opened up a three-point gap with a Francesca Piccinini spike on the left for 19-16, forcing Cuba to call the first TO of the match. Kenia Carcaces continued to lead the Cuban reply, but there was nothing the Cuban block could do to stop Serena Ortolani's smooth spike on the right for 21-18. At this point, Santos exploded on the right for a couple of Cuban winners, and now Italy went off for a TO hanging on to a one-point lead, 21-20. Trailing 23-21, a Cuban block on Ortolani and a Ruiz special from the left brought Cuba level 23-23, sending Italy into their second TO.
In a tense finish to the first set, Italy took it 30-28 on their fourth set point when Barazza blocked Barros at the center. Cuba fought back strongly to take the second set 25-18 and continued the momentum in the third for a 16-10 cushion at the second TTO and held it to 24-21. Italy withstood two set points to pull within 24-23, only to find Daimi Ramirez spike hard and at an angle that could not be saved to wind up the set 25-23. In the fourth set, the Italians went down more tamely.
"I think this is the right result of this match and of this tournament because Cuba has played better than Italy for all the Final Round," said Italy head coach Massimo Barbolini at the post match press conference. "For us, if we will finish third this World Grand Prix will be very, very positive and important for the experience for the players, and for me to see some situations to improve against strong teams."
Ramirez made 15 kills in 17 attempts for 18 points to lead five Cuba players in double scoring digits.
In the first match of the day, Tayyiba Haneef-Park scored game-high 23 points to lift the United States over China in a five-set thriller. After the two sides traded runs to tie it at 14-all in the tiebreak, Haneef-Park made it 15-14, but Xue struck again for deuce, saving a second match point. Again Haneef-Park brought up match point, and won it at the third attempt, 17-15.
"We are very excited to come out of our last game of this tournament with a win and playing with a lot of heart and fight because that is what we will need in the Olympics," said American setter Lindsey Berg. "Everybody on the team contributed and it is great when you can do that. We will take this into the Olympics and fight every match."
"In today's match our play was not stable, especially our setters," said China head coach Chen Zhonghe. "The combination between the setter and attackers was not so smooth. We could not follow up the one-touch ball. As a result of these mistakes we could not get the chance to win this match."
Zhao Ruirui led China with 20 points and Wang Yimei added 18.
FIVB World Grand Prix 2008
Best spiker: Daimi Ramirez, Cuba
Best blocker: Walewska Oliveira, Brazil
Best server: Megumi Kurihara, Japan
Best libero: Yuko Sano, Japan
Best setter: Yoshie Takeshita, Japan
Best scorer: Megumi Kurihara, Japan
Most Valuable Player: Marianne Steinbrecher, Brazil
9. Dominican Republic
"Follow Me" by Andrea Zorzi
Andrea Zorzi, a former world champion who is now cooperating with the FIVB as a freelance journalist and technical commentator, is continuing his "Follow Me" journey in Yokohama, Japan, for the World Grand Prix Final Round with a video interview with USA's Logan Tom and Cuba coach Antonio Perdomo and analysis of the story in Yokohama, all posted Sunday. The link is on the FIVB homepage.