Lausanne, July 6, 2008 - Brazil, China, Italy, USA and Cuba joined hosts Japan in the FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round after the third and final weekend of the Preliminary Rounds.
The Final Round of the annual international Volleyball competition involving the world's best Women players will be contested in Yokohama in a round-robin format through July 9-13.
Six-times World Grand Prix champions Brazil finished at the top of the standings with an 8-1 win-loss record, with 2003 champions and 2007 runners-up China finishing second and 2007 bronze medallists Italy finishing third, both also with 8-1 records.
Two-times champions USA took the fourth qualifying position with a 7-2 record and Cuba was the fifth team to qualify with a 6-3 record.
Brazil won Pool I in Macau ahead of China, but they had a scare in their first match against Dominican Republic. The Dominicans surged to a two-set lead (23-25, 22-25) but the Brazilians stormed back to claim the next three 25-22, 25-23, 15-9. The Brazilians then romped against Japan 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-15) before coming up against China, who they beat 25-21, 25-17, 25-20 in front of 3,100 fans at Tap Seac Multi Sports Pavilion.
"It is always hard to play against China team because they are very strong," said Brazil Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes. "We have done well in setting, serve and block, yet, I am worried about that beforehand as we performed badly when we are playing with the Dominican Republic on the first day. It is always important to play with consistency in the future."
Said China Head Coach Chen Zhonghe: "First, I would like to congratulate the Brazil team, they have performed very well. For us, we are well prepared, but we have not made the best and we are quite passive. The serves and defense are not good, and we sometimes miss the opportunity to gain the key points. We have many fluctuations and through this match, I can see that we still need to make more improvements. I hope we will be better in the future games."
Said China captain and star setter Feng Kun: "The Brazil team performs very well today, they have good serves and attacks. Although we are well prepared, we encountered some difficulties and our defense is not effective. Generally speaking, the Brazil team performs better than us."
In their other two matches, China downed the Dominicans 3-0 and Japan 3-0, making it a miserable weekend for next week’s hosts, who also lost 3-0 to the Dominicans. Indeed Japan finished a 2-7 win-loss record overall.
In Pool G in Bangkok, Thailand, Cuba won all three matches but were pushed all the way in the final match against the hosts at Mall Bangkapi MCC Hall. The Cubans beat Germany 3-1 (23-25, 25-21, 25-8, 25-21) and Kazakhstan 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-16) before facing Thailand in front of 4,000 home fans. Cuba dropped the first two sets 25-20, 25-22 but scraped the third set 25-23 before winning the fourth 25-17 and tiebreak 15-9 to secure a ticket to the Land of the Rising Sun.
"I would like to praise Thailand," said Cuban Head Coach Antonio Perdomo Estrella after the last match. "They did a good job. The Thai players are very quick and always came out with fast spikes. They did good homework and read our game plan well. I accept that Thailand played with guts. I had much pressure after Thailand made it 2-2. "However, I’m happy that we eventually made it to the grand final in Japan, but I have yet expected anything there. I just hope that my girls will do their best in Japan."
Cuba captain Yumilka Ruiz Luaces said: "I have played in Thailand several times but never thought they played better than this. They played exceptionally well. It was one of the most difficult tasks for my team. However, we could beat them finally."
In Pool H in Taipei, Chinese Taipei, USA secured a place in the tournament’s denouement with 3-1 victories over Poland and Turkey. The U.S. downed Poland 20-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-10 and tournament surprise package Turkey 25-16, 25-20, 20-25, 25-17, getting their revenge for a defeat in Pool A in Kobe, Japan, on the opening weekend.
Italy also made sure of their place in the Final Round with a successful weekend at Hsinchuang Gym in Taipei, winning the group by virtue of downing USA 3-0 in the final match of the weekend there. The Italians beat Turkey 3-1 (25-20, 21-25, 30-28, 25-23) in their opening match but had a scare against Poland. Losing the first two sets 25-23, 25-23, Massimo Barbolini’s charges came back to win the next three 25-20, 25-14, 18-16. Then, against the U.S., Italy romped to a 3-0 win in front of 3,300 fans (25-22, 25-21, 25-16), capturing the Pool H crown.
"This was our first match against USA since the beginning of the World Grand Prix," said Barbolini. "I am glad we played a good game. We played particularly well in our defence and block-cover, which made up for our relatively weak blocking in this match."
Said USA Head Coach "Jenny" Lang Ping:?"We did well in the first two sets. But we had too many unforced errors that dragged us down at critical moments. Italy played a smooth game and deserved the result."
Aside from the top five the rankings threw up a few surprises: Turkey finished sixth with a 4-5 win-loss record, Germany seventh with the same, the Dominicans eighth also with a 4-5 record, Japan ninth at 2-7, the mighty Poland 10th with a 1-8 record, Thailand 11th with 1-8 and Kazakhstan 12th with 1-8.