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Brazil, Cuba lead title race, Japan pull off amazing upset over Italy on Day Three of World Grand Prix Final Round in Yokohama
 
Yokohama, Japan, July 11, 2008 - World No. 1 Brazil and Cuba both clinched their third straight wins on Friday to lead the title race at the 2008 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, while hosts Japan pulled off an amazing upset by sweeping World Cup winners Italy 3-0, leaving reigning Olympic champions China as the only winless team.

Six-time World Grand Prix winners Brazil held off China 25-18, 25-16, 21-25, 25-18 at the Yokohama Arena on Friday afternoon to improve their win-loss record to a perfect 3-0 at the six-team round robin, dropping China to 0-3.

"I am very happy for the victory, all our players did a very good job," said Brazil Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes. "But we have to keep in mind that this tournament is only warm-up for the Olympic Games, we still have a long way to go."
 
Later on Friday, Cuba came from two sets down to beat the United States 22-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-21, 15-11 to join Brazil in the unbeaten club.

"It was a very difficult game. The United States team is very technical and plays at a very calm level," said Cuba Head Coach Antonio Perdomo. "It was very hard to win this game and for our team to stay concentrated during the game. I want the players to pull themselves together for the Beijing Olympics."

The biggest surprise came in the last match when the Asian champions tamed World No. 2 Italy 25-23, 25-22, 26-24 to improve to a 1-2 win-loss record.

"We have not beaten Italy in straight sets since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, so I am very happy," said Japan Head Coach Shoichi Yanagimoto. "I felt we could make the Japanese style."

The Brazilian women, who were obviously in their top form, had no great trouble taking their second victory over the Chinese following a 3-0 rout in the Preliminary Round in Macao on Sunday.

"We found a lot of problems through this tournament," said China Head Coach Chen Zhonghe. "We could not play to our standard and every player of our team was really tested physically.

"But I will not care too much about the results of this tournament, while it is more important for us to make adjustments accordingly so that we can play our best at the Olympic Games."
 
The Chinese women, who had gathered on the first day of the year for their Olympic training camp, appeared to run out of stamina in the first two sets as they were totally out-matched by the Brazilian team.
 
Brazil used a 9-1 run to go up 20-11 and cruised to victory in the opening set.  In the second, China stayed within two at 10-8, but the Brazilians steadily pulled away for a comfortable cushion at 21-13 and went on to make it two sets to nil.
 
The Chinese regathered themselves in the third set and Ma Yunwen came from the bench to score nine points to help them pull one set back.
 
In the fourth set, Brazil took control again, pulling away from an 8-all draw and never looked back.
 
"We concentrated very well in the first two sets and our counter-attack was very effective," said Brazil captain Fofao. "In the third set the combinations became inaccurate, and this was the factor in losing the third set."
 
Marianne Steinbrecher led Brazil with 19 points and Paula Pequeno and Walewska Oliveira added 17 and 16 respectively.
 
Opon Kenia Carcaces became the heroine of Cuba as she came from the bench to save her side from an upset loss to the Americans. After Cuba went down tamely 25-22, 25-17 in the first two sets, Carcaces had a bunch of sensational spikes for 16 attacking points to help haul back two sets, 25-18 and 25-21.
 
In the tiebreaker, Cuba reeled off four of the last five points for the victory at 15-11.
 
"We are very happy to have won against a team as strong as the United States," said Cuba captain Yumilka Ruiz, who shared game-high 20 points with Carcaces for Cuba. "We did not play well in the first and second sets and could not play at our own pace."

Carcaces made 18 kills in 29 tries in the hard-fought match where Cuba conceded 36 points through errors, compared to 19 of the United States.

"It was a pretty good game. When we are under a little bit of pressure from passing, our block defense system has not played well, especially in the third set," said USA Head Coach Jenny Lang Ping. "Against Cuba they all have six rotations with three hitters and this makes it hard for us. We could do better and that is what we need to learn from the game."

The Americans slipped to a 1-2 record with Italy and China to play in the last two rounds.

In the match between Japan and Italy, the hosts showed no sign of fatigue after a five-set marathon loss to the United States on Thursday, starting well enough for a 16-11 lead at the second TTO of the first set and held it to 24-19.

The Italians survived four set points to pull within 24-23, only to see Megumi Kurihara clinch the opener for Japan with a smash.

In the second set, Japan got off to a flying start again. Suddenly they were up at 9-5 and then improved to 16-9. Italy struggled to cut its deficit to 24-22, but Kurihara came out big again to notch the winner with a well-landed spike.

It seemed that the Italians were pulling one set back when they held an narrow lead most of the way for a 23-21 advantage late in the third set. However, Japan rallied to take five of the last six points to seal the well-deserved victory.

Sachiko Sugiyama and Saori Kimura scored 14 points each to lead Japan and Kurihara finished with 13.

"The point of winning was that we were able to do what we usually do," said Yanagimoto. "We were very good especially in serve reception and block, and we got a lot of points with serving and could play all-for-one, one-for-all."

Italy slipped to 1-2 following their second defeat in two days.

"Two defeats in a row ... it is a long time since we have had this experience," said Italy Head Coach Massimo Barbolini. "I think that today we were playing only the third set like we can. The first two sets we were playing only in the final points, and it was too late to try and win."

"After the match against Brazil, today we have not played with the same passion that is necessary to beat Japan," he added. "I think Japan has improved a lot, because yesterday they played a very, very good match against the United States."

"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 Italy's Taismary Augero and analysis of the story so far in Yokohama, both posted Friday. The link is on the FIVB homepage.

 

  
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