Thursday, 31 July 2014
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Russia hosts Cuba in battle for ticket to Final Round

Cuba plays soccer during its first training session in Khabarovsk

Can Cuba maintain the high level it has shown in 2009 World League games when it faces strong opponents in away games? This is one of the most interesting questions in Pool C, one that will probably be answered this weekend when the Cubans play against Olympic 2008 bronze medalist Russia in Khabarovsk.

Cuba, currently 18th in the FIVB World Rankings, tops Pool C with 5-1 record, while third-ranked Russia sits in second place with a 4-2 record.

The Cubans started their World League season unexpectedly well by sweeping Bulgaria in back-to-back games and then splitting two matches with Russia. But they met both European giants at home, where Cuba traditionally performs very well, while it often struggles playing away games. Even though the Cubans won both of their matches easily in Japan last weekend, it was hardly considered a real test for them as the Asian team has been a bit of a pushover at this tournament. Russia will certainly not be so this weekend.

Cuban head coach Orlando Samuels believes that the young players he has this year will prove the team's traditional away form is a thing of the past. "These players have a different mentality compared to the previous generations. Last weekend in Japan we played well, which is a good sign," he said. "Of course Russia is stronger. That's why I'll be satisfied if we win just one game here."

Russia head coach Daniele Bagnoli expects a pair of tough games with the Cubans but he is more focused on the performance of his team. "I see that the team is improving from game to game and this process is ongoing. As the World League progresses, we need to find the right players for future competitions - the 2010 World Championship Qualification and European Championship," he said.

But the most immediate concern for Russia is to qualify for the World League Final Round. And to reach it Russia has to defeat the Cubans at home. "We are going to win as many games as we need for the qualification and we know that the matches against Cuba are decisive," said Bagnoli.

Cuba traveled to Khabarovsk directly from Japan and will play Russia with the same roster. Russia will be without one of its most experienced players, middle blocker Alexey Kazakov, who has an Achilles tendon problem. He will be replaced by another veteran, Alexey Kuleshov, who will play full time for the first time in this Would League edition.

The matches will be played on Saturday and Sunday in the 7,000-capacity Platinum Arena, the same venue that hosted Russia-Bulgaria last week. The Arena is already sold out for the weekend matches. 

  

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