Havana, Cuba, June 19, 2009 - Cuba defeated Russia in five sets (25-18, 24-26, 22-25, 25-23 and 15-11), in front of about 15,000 satisfied spectators at Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum during Pool C action of the 20th World League.
In a match dedicated to the late Luis Felipe Calderon, the former head coach of Cuba's national teams who passed away last week, Cuba improved to 3-0 in the World League qualifying round, while Russia dropped to 2-1.
Cuba started strong, with captain Roberlandy Simon scoring the first two points. Russia’s attacks couldn’t drill through the Cuban blocking and with the crowd going crazy, it was obvious the visitors were out of sorts.
The home team soon led 13-4, but after losing the second technical point, Russia rallied so fast that Cuban Head Coach Orlando Samuells called a timeout to halt their momentum. Cuba fought back and kept a six point-lead until the end. Libero Kleiber Gutierrez was up to the challenge, with an almost suicidal defense, while spiker Joandri Leal scored 5 points to give Cuba the set 25-18.
Russia Head Coach Daniele Bagnoli rearranged his strategy and his squad to make sure the second set was different. A better serve, a strong defense and an intelligent attack put Russia ahead. Samuells then made a move the lifted the entire crowd to its feet at the Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum: Michael "Ruso" Sanchez was brought into the game and made the difference. Sanchez returned from a long injury layoff this year and the fans gave him a standing ovation, rewarded with some great spikes. Cuba tied the set 23-23 and got the set point, but Simon gave it away. Russia then scored two points and won the set 26-24.
By the third set, the Russians looked more comfortable with heat, humidity and the pressure from the crowd. On the other hand, the Cubans seemed lost, predictable and out of confidence. Some of the referee’s calls were booed, but the visitors were really better. Cuba was behind 8-12, but rallied and tied 16-16. But once again the home squad lost impetus, and the visitors went ahead 21-18. Playing their guts out, Cuba approached 22-21, but then lost a serve and spiked out of bonds, and Russia won the set 25-22.
If "Ruso" was the spark in the second set, he definitively lost power later. As a matter of fact, he lost the last two points in the third set. Samuells kept him on for the fourth set, but after four plays he understood his former star was getting tired. Opener Rolando Cepeda returned and Cuba moved ahead for the first time since the first set. Russia led at the first technical timeout 8-7, but Leal and youngster Wilfredo Leon carried their team to a 16-11 lead. But the lack of consistency hurt Cuba and Russia went ahead 20-19. Cuba’s blocking started working and gave the home team a lead they never lost. The noisy crowd got into Evgeny Sivozhelev’s head, making the Dinamo spiker lose his serve and the set (25-23).
Inspired by the chanting fans, Cuba started the tie-break with a 5-2 lead. But setter Diaz insisted with Leal and the Russian's blocked him. In a stubborn decision, Diaz gave Leal the ball once again, and this time Cuba's scoring leader didn’t let him down. Russia never gave up, but Cuba was making everything better. At the end, Cuba won the set 15-11 and remained undefeated.
Russia: Semen Poltavsky, Evgeny Sivozhelev, Alexey Kazakov, Yury Berezhko, Alexsandr Volkov, Alexandr Yanutov (L)
Cuba: Wilfredo Leon, Osmany Camejo, Joandry Leal, Rolando Cepeda, Roberlandy Simon, Yoandri Diaz, Kleiber Gutierrez (L).