Yohohama, Japan, July 12, 2008 - World No. 1 Brazil were just one step away from their seventh World Grand Prix title after romping past Cuba 3-0 at Yokohama Arena on Saturday. World No. 2 Italy ended their two-game losing streak by beating USA 3-1 while China held off Japan 3-1 for their first win in four tries. In a match between two previously unbeaten teams, the Brazilian women brushed aside Cuba 25-14, 25-15 and 25-20 for their fourth straight victory at the six-team round robin Volleyball tournament.
Despite their commanding performance in Yokohama, Brazil head coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes refused to be overoptimistic. "Of course I am very happy about the result, but although we won this game I do not have any illusions about the Olympics," said Guimaraes. "It is quite another matter, the Grand Prix and the Olympics."
In the second match of the day, the Azzurre improved to 2-2 with a 25-17, 26-28, 25-19, 25-19 victory over the Americans, who dropped to 1-3. "I want to congratulate my team for playing a good match against a strong team like the United States," said Italy head coach Massimo Barbolini.
Barbolini also revealed that Italian player Antonella Del Core was missing the Beijing Olympics due to physical problems. "I want to say that the team and me now are very near to Antonella Del Core -- a very great person, an incredible person and before a very incredible player who will not be with us at the Olympic Games," Barbolini said.
Later on Saturday, Zhao Ruirui notched game-high 27 points to lift China over Japan 25-17, 28-30, 25-15 and 25-21. "It's good to take our first win. Today we played better than we did in the last three matches,” said China head coach Chen Zhonghe. "It's the best game of Zhao at this tournament and she played very aggressively today."
Coming off a 3-1 victory over the reigning Olympic champions China on Friday, Brazil jumped to a 9-4 lead in the first set against Cuba. Opon Kenia Carcaces, who came from the bench to score 20 points the day before to help produce Cuba's come-from-behind 3-2 win over the United States, continued to entertain the spectators with her thunderous kills, but the Brazilians played more like a team.
Menezes combined with Castro to block Yumilka Ruiz and then she served three straight jump float aces to spark Brazil to an unshakable lead at 21-11. In the second set, Cuba managed to stay within 11-10, but Brazil surged away again thanks to two solid blocks against Ruiz and Fernandez Zoila Barros and two Cuban errors. Cuban Echevarria Daimi Ramirez drove a ball long to see Brazil improve their lead t 18-11 and the rest of the set became just a routine. Cuba went back to improve their team work and commit less errors to make the third set a closer contest, but Brazil could still build up a 16-13 lead at the second TTO and held on for the victory.
"Brazil had a great serve in the game, and we did not have good reception, serve and blocking. This made it a very difficult game," said Cuba head coach Antonio Perdomo.
"Brazil's serve was excellent, and we could not play our own game," said Cuba captain Yumilka Ruiz, who was held to just eight points.
Marianne Steinbrecher led Brazil with 17 points with Thaisa Menezes and Sheilla Castro adding 14 and 10, respectively.
It was very interesting to see the match between Italy and the United States, who played high level defense to combine for 75 digs through the match. With both teams starting without some major players, including Tayyiba Haneef-Park of the USA team, the clash seemed to be lopsided when Italy cruised to a 25-17 victory in the opening set and went on to take an early 9-3 lead in the second, but the United States soon fought back to tell everybody that they would not give up easily. The Americans steadily pulled it back at 18-18 before the two teams traded leads to tie it at 26-all. Then American Foluke Akinradewo made it 27-26 and Ogonna Nnamani served out the set with an ace.
"We are happy to give this opportunity to young players. I think the young players played well, especially the No. 19 Foluke. I think she has a lot of potential."
The United States continued to play good Volleyball in the third set to stay within 18-17. But Francesca Piccinini returned from the bench to contribute two smashes and an ace to make it 21-17 and three errors of the Americans allowed Italy wind up the set with a 4-2 run.
In the fourth set, it was tied at 18-all before a Sara Anzanello ace and a Jenny Barazza block against Akinradewo gave Italy two-point lead. On the next play, Italian blockers denied Nnamani's shot twice in a row to feed Taismary Aguero for an amazing counter attack spike that destroyed the confidence of the Americans, who managed only one point the rest of the way.
"I think Italy played a great game, especially in defense and blocking. I think we have so many unforced errors and that is a big area we need to improve," said USA head coach Lang Ping. "But also we are happy to give this opportunity to young players. I think the young players played well, especially the No. 19 Foluke."
Akinradewo and Nnamani each scored 18 points for the United States.
In the last match of the day, China showed their determination to win from the first minute. Flying to a 12-5 start, the Chinese glided to a 25-17 victory in the opening set. Japan started to showcase their tenacious defense in the second set which made it difficult for Chinese side spikers Yang Hao and Li Juan to execute. After China fell behind 13-9, the 1.96-meter blocker Zhao Ruirui scored four points to lift China to a 6-0 run, but the Japanese soon answered back with a 4-0 burst.
The two sides traded leads to tie it at 28-all before Saori Kimura smashed a ball home and Erika Araki converted on a chance ball to clinch the hard-fought set for Japan. In the third set, China took control again after head coach Chen Zhonghe replaced Li Juan with ace spiker Wang Yimei. The Chinese jumped to a 9-2 lead and never looked back.
Japan stayed within 8-7 in the fourth set, but China pulled away with a 6-2 run to go up at 14-9, a gap that the hosts could never close. Wang Yimei finished with 14 points for China.
"Our serve-reception was not good from the first set," said Japan head coach Shoichi Yanagimoto. "We need to change our block system."
The Japanese reaped seven points from blocking, compared with 17 for China.
"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 China head coach Chen Zhonghe posted Saturday. The link is published on the FIVB homepage.