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Press releases
Italy, Brazil, Cuba off to winning start at FIVB World Grand Prix Finals in Japan
Yokohama, Japan, July 9, 2008 - World Cup winner Italy rallied past reigning Olympic champion China in a pulsating five-setter as the 2008 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals kicked off at Yokohama Arena on Wednesday. World No. 1 Brazil earned a straight-sets win over USA in the curtain-raiser and traditional powerhouse Cuba bounced back from a set down to beat Japan in the other opening matches at the six-team round-robin tournament.
The Italians, yet to capture a title at the World Grand Prix, battled for one hour and 52 minutes to win the high-profile clash 22-25, 29-27, 20-25, 25-20, 15-9 and gain sweet revenge for their loss to the Chinese in the Preliminary Round in Hong Kong last month.
"I am really happy because we have won a very important match against a very strong team like China," said Italy Head Coach Massimo Barbolini. "And we have won, I think, without playing very well."
"But we fought for all the match. We have improved in reception and serve in respect of the match in Hong Kong, so I have to say thank you to my players for this very, very good victory," he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, six-time Grand Prix champions Brazil found their groove in a 25-19, 25-19 and 25-23 victory over the United States to start the Final Round impressively.

"It was an important match for us. We started well but I did not like the game," said Brazil Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes. "I think we played not so good in counter-attack, and our defense sometimes did not touch easy balls, but it is important to begin with a win in the first match."

Cuba came from one set down to defeat hosts Japan 19-25, 25-23, 25-18 and 25-19 to draw the first day to a close.
Italy and China provided most of the thrills and spills of the day. With veteran Yang Hao replacing Wang Yimei in the starting line-up, the Chinese, the 2003 World Grand Prix winner, played good defense from the beginning and went into the second TTO of the first set with a two-point lead.  Thanks to some high quality services from Li Juan, the Chinese ran off four unanswered points after the game resumed to enlarge their lead to 20-14, a gap their opponents could never close.
Barbolini's side fought back strongly in the second set.  Trailing by two into the first TTO, the Italian Women overtook the lead at 10-9 by taking four of the next five points.  From then on, neither team could pull away until Francesca Piccinini stuffed Zhao Ruirui twice and added a kill to spark a 4-0 Italian run which made it 23-19.
The Chinese answered with a 5-0 burst with a spike by star setter Feng Kun giving her side the edge at 24-23.  However, the Italians withstood three set points for a 27-26 advantage before Manuela Secolo came up with two consecutive points to seal the marathon set at 29-27.
"We were not strong enough at crucial moments," said China Head Coach Chen Zhonghe. "In the second and fifth set, we gave away some very good chances."
It was hotly contested affair early in the third set, but China steadily pulled away from a 16-all draw and Xu Yunli came from the bench to wind up the set with a quick hit.
The fourth set was showtime for Italian attacker Taismary Aguero.  After an Italian error allowed China a narrow 19-18 lead, Aguero had two kills and an ace to push Italy up at 22-19.
Zhou Suhong pulled one back for China, but Aguero came out big again, flying high to smash two balls home to secure the set and force the tie-break, where Italy surged ahead from a 6-all tie and never looked back.
Piccinini converted on 25 of her 48 spiking opportunities to notch a game-high 27 points for Italy while Aguero finished with 20.  Yang Hao led the Chinese with 21 points and Zhao Ruirui added 18.
In the first match of the day, Brazil led 8-7 at the first TTO thanks to a powerful winner at the net by Walewska Oliveira.
Both teams displayed good defense from the outset, especially their digging, and the early stages were punctuated with long rallies.
Sheilla Castro and Tayyiba Haneef-Park exchanged flashing spikes, but the Americans were making more attack errors than Brazil.  After losing the first three points on the restart to trail 11-7, USA called a TO.
Kimberly Glass warmed the hands of the Brazilian blockers on a couple of occasions with some lusty blows from the left, but in general the Americans were struggling to finish off their attacks.
In contrast, Thaisa Menezes was all over a slick Fofao set to blast Brazil into the second TTO with a five-point cushion, 16-11.
Haneef-Park and Logan Tom kept the Americans in touch before a kill and an ace of Heather Bown pulled them within 19-18.
However, that's the closest the United States could go.  Some blocking efforts of Menezes and consecutive mistakes of the Americans helped Brazil run off six of the last seven points to clinch the first set.
Going down more tamely in the second set, the Americans put up some real resistance in the third, erasing an 18-15 deficit to level it at 18-all.  After Paula Pequeno drove a ball in to give Brazil a 22-21 lead, the United States even managed to overtake the lead through a kill and an ace from Tom.  However, two attacking points of Walewska Oliveira and Marianne Steinbrecher and a spiking mistake of Haneef-Park awarded the match to Brazil.
Steinbrecher and Pequeno scored 14 points each to lead the Brazilian attack while Tom finished with 12 for the United States.
"Before the game we knew it was going to be very difficult. Brazil is ranked No. 1 in the world and they look like the No. 1," said U.S. Head Coach Lang Ping. "They do not have a weakness and we have to play the perfect, perfect game to get closer. We have not got our rhythm yet. We have problems with passing and serving."
In the last match of the day, after the hard-fought first two sets, Cuba prevailed in the third as Yumilka Ruiz proved to be unstoppable for the Japanese defense.  The Cubans steadily built up a 19-13 lead and held on to make it two sets to one.
Japan stayed within 12-11 early in the fourth set, but faded again.
Ruiz slammed 15 kills in 28 attempts to lead Cuba with 17 points.


More press releases
13.07.2008 Brazil claim seventh World Grand Prix title with perfect 5-0 record  
12.07.2008 Brazil march toward seventh World Grand Prix title, Italy and China snap losing streak  
11.07.2008 Brazil, Cuba lead title race, Japan pull off amazing upset over Italy on Day Three of World Grand Prix Final Round in Yokohama  
10.07.2008 Brazil, Cuba claim second straight wins, USA beats Japan in five sets as excitement builds at FIVB World Grand Prix Finals  
08.07.2008 National Team Head Coaches look forward to FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round in Yokohama  
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03.07.2008 Perfect Chinese tailed by USA, Brazil, Italy as FIVB World Grand Prix heads to Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Macau on final weekend of Preliminary Rounds  
02.07.2008 Press interview of the World Grand Prix third leg Group G in Bangkoik  
01.07.2008 Preview of the third weekend Group G in Bangkok, Thailand  
29.06.2008 China stay perfect in World Grand Prix after beating Italy in Hong Kong; Brazil, USA hot on their tails  
26.06.2008 FIVB 2008 World Grand Prix: Chinese and Italian Women lead the way as Vietnam, Poland, Hong Kong host second weekend of Preliminary Round matches  
22.06.2008 FIVB 2008 World Grand Prix: China and Italy emerge as queens of first leg  
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16.06.2008 FIVB 2008 World Grand Prix countdown: Preliminary Rounds to start this weekend in China, Japan, Italy  
08.06.2008 Dominican Republic win gold medal at Women's Pan Am Cup and claim World Grand Prix 2009 berth alongside Puerto Rico, USA and Brazil  
03.06.2008 FIVB World Grand Prix 2008 Final Round: Press accreditation for Yokohama event open till June 27  
13.05.2008 Polish fans' demand for tickets forces change of venue for FIVB World Grand Prix Group E matches  
15.04.2008 USA Women scheduled to meet Brazil in three-match series  
04.04.2008 FIVB ratifies 2008 World Grand Prix match schedule; Vietnam named as an organiser for first time  
10.09.2007 Germany, Turkey as well as Italy enter World Grand Prix 2008  
25.08.2007 2008 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals awarded to Yokohama, Japan  
03.07.2007 Cuba is a four-time champion at Pan American Cup