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Esko, Sammelvuo and Kunnari return to Finnish team for matches against Venezuela

A Finnish trio blocks a Venezuela spiker

Tampere, Finland, June 24, 2009 - A very experienced trio of players will be back in the Finnish lineup when the team plays Venezuela in World League matches on Friday and Saturday.

Mikko Esko returns as the first setter, replacing Joni Markkula, who conducted the Finnish attack in Venezuela and in Brazil during the first two rounds. Team captain Tuomas Sammelvuo and Olli Kunnari will also take back their positions as universal players.

However, two important players are still missing from the Finnish team. Experienced middle blocker Janne Heikkinen and young universal player Urpo Sivula remain sidelined with injuries.

Many young players had the opportunity to show their skills to head coach Mauro Berruto while the older players were away. Jesse Mäntylä and Jari Tuominen played their first matches ever for the Finnish National Team in Venezuela.

"We have now a lot of good players and the number is increasing all the time," Berrutto said. "I believe that many of our players have not reached their absolute best level, and they will develop further. I am happy to see new young players like Jari Tuominen and Jesse Mäntylä really fighting for places in the team."

Setter Esko agrees with his coach. "Four years ago we had seven or eight players who could realistically take to the court. Now the competition between the players has become really hard and that is a positive problem for the team."

In their home matches against Venezuela, the Finns have only one goal: to win them both. In Venezuela, the hosts won the first match and Finland the second. A week later in Brazil the Finns took one point from the No. 1 team in the world with a 2-3 loss.

In Tampere Ice Hall a hot fight is expected to emerged between the two top spikers, Venezuela's Luis Diaz and Finland's Mikko Oivanen. They have both scored 64 points in their previous four matches. Diaz is one of the most efficient spikers in the World League and Oivanen has made a lot of important points for his team.

Finland has also showed very good blocking in their previous matches. Middle blockers Jukka Lehtonen and Oivanen gave even the skillful Brazilian attackers a hard time.


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