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
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
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,"
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.