Toyama, Japan, June 26, 2009 – If the
pre-match press conference for Week 3 of the World League was a
competition for local support, then Cuba already has the advantage.
Cuban coach Orlando Samuels greeted the
media at Toyama City Gymnasium by declaring: “I'm really looking
forward to playing in Toyama and I want to show the fans in Toyama
some exciting games.”
But Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta was unable
to rise to the challenge when asked if he would field any players
from Toyama Prefecture.
“Sorry, the team has already been
decided,” he said with a laugh. The best he could do was a player
each from the neighboring prefectures of Nagano and Ishikawa.
In the serious business of World League
volleyball, where they are battling Russia, Cuba and Bulgaria in
Group C, Ueta recognizes that Japan has some catching up to do.
After dropping the first two matches
against Russia, Japan managed to split last week's matches in
Cuba beat Bulgaria in their first two
matches but then split the next series against Russia.
“We are not at the level of Russia,
Cuba and Bulgaria,” Ueta admitted. “The Cubans are at a high
level and I want my players to learn from them.”
Samuels recognizes that Japan is a
well-balanced team and is not taking the Toyama matches lightly.
“Japan has some tall players and is a
strong team, so we'll need to play our best,” he noted.
He is keen to bring more consistency to
his team after errors hurt them against Russia.
“Some of our players are very young,
so they don't have good concentration; I need them to concentrate
more,” he stated.
One player that has caught the media's
attention is 15-year-old Wilfredo Leon, who is 201 cm tall.
“He's been in the national team since
last year and has to work on a lot of things, especially his
technical skills,” Samuels explained. “I want him to learn from
the Russian, Bulgarian and Japanese players.”
Samuels noted that Cuba was much
stronger in the early 1990s and he is hoping to take the Caribbean
team back to that level.
Cuba is currently ranked 18th
in the world, compared to ninth for Japan, but Ueta believes that the
Cubans are still one of the best teams in the world.
“They are all skillful players,” he
Ueta can take heart from a fighting
display in Bulgaria, but says the trip has taken its toll on some of
“Some of the players are jet-lagged,
so we need to get them in top condition,” he said.
One of the keys, he added, would be
dealing with high blocks, which all the teams in Group C of the World
League are capable of performing. Japan, meanwhile has improved its
own blocking since the defeat against Russia.
“We were able to win in Bulgaria
because our defense worked well,” Ueta pointed out.
But he will be hoping his main
attacker, Kunihiro Shimizu, can repeat the 25 points he scored
Japan performed well against Russia but
could not find the extra ingredient to convert pressure into victory.
With the Bulgarian win fresh in their minds, they may now be ready to
overcome that hurdle.