Russia welcomes back veterans Sergey Tetyukhin and
Aleksey Kuleshov for their first domestic matches of the 2009 World League this
Saturday and Sunday against Bulgaria in Khabarovsk.
Alexey Verbov and Alexey Cheremisin, who didn't travel
with the team to Cuba for the last weekends matches, are also back in the team,
while Denis Kalinin left the squad to play in the Universiade in Serbia.
Russia will be looking to its freshly rested players to
help stop Bulgaria, who have lost three of their first four matches and will be
desperate for victory knowing their chances of qualifying for Final Round in
Belgrade will be over if they don't.
The Balkan team has made only one change to its roster,
bringing in Russian spiker Todor Alexiev for Partin Penev.
The two European teams were expected to be the favorites
in Pool C, but after a sputtering start by Bulgaria and a resurgent Cuba
flexing its muscles, Russia finds itself tied in points (9) with the South
Americans at the top of the table after splitting a pair of five-set thrillers
In the opening weekend, the Russians won back-to-back
matches against Japan. Bulgaria sits in the third place with a 1-3 record. The
Lions opened the World League by loosing two matches in Cuba, and then
surprisingly split its matches with Japan at home.
Bulgaria coach Silvano Prandi believes his team is ready
to make a "breakthrough" in Russia. "It happened many times with
the teams I have coached-- that we start bad in the beginning. This is mostly
psychological," he said. "And then we have a big match against a good
opponent and we get into the right mood. I hope this will happen now with
Russia coach Daniele Bagnoli is taking nothing for
granted. "I expect a very angry Bulgaria," he said. "I've heard
about the polemic in the Bulgarian media after their losses and I think they
must be eager to respond to it with a good performance. That's why Bulgaria is
very dangerous now."
Italians Prandi and Bagnoli, both successful coaches in
their clubs careers, will meet for the fist time as coaches of national teams.
"For me playing against a team coached by an Italian
means that the opponent is prepared very well tactically," said Bagnoli,
whose side has a very optimistic 14-5 record against Bulgaria.
Khabarovsk will be hosting its first elite-level men's
volleyball matches, which will be played at the 7,100-capacity Platinum Arena.