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Bulgaria, Japan coaches looking for improvement

Bulgaria coach Silvano Prandi (left) poses with Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta on Friday.

Tokyo, Japan, July 3, 2009 – With half of their World League group games completed, Japan and Bulgaria face each other at Ariake Colosseum this weekend knowing they have to improve.

"We've had six matches with two wins and four losses and we prepared for this match after a couple of matches against Russia, where we had one win and one loss and improved our play and level a little," Bulgaria's Italian coach Silvano Prandi told the media on Friday. "This weekend, we hope to to continue to improve our quality of play because we need to improve a lot."

Japan enters the two-match series against Bulgaria coming off a poor performance against Cuba in Toyama, where they lost in straight sets on both days. Coach Tatsuya Ueta and his captain Daisuke Usami agree that Japan needs to be stronger mentally.

"We are mentally weak and I think we have to be more proactive and each one of us must understand our responsibility to the team," Japan captain Daisuke Usami said after the Cuba game.

Ueta was equally direct: "My players need to communicate more on the court. It seems that they don't worry about errors from their teammates so much. They must change their way of thinking and should encourage and criticize one another during the game. It will make the players come together more as a team."

Japan lies at the bottom of the Pool C standings with three points from a 1-5 win-loss record. Bulgaria has six points from a 2-4 record. The group is led by Cuba (5-1) with 15 points, followed by Russia (4-2) with 12 points.

The Japan players can be encouraged by the fact that Bulgaria is the only team they have managed to beat so far in the World League.

Prandi recognizes the strengths of the Japanese team.

"The Japanese team is strong and we will have a couple of difficult matches here," the Italian noted. "But we are prepared and we hope our level will be better than before."

Prandi cited Japan's setter Usami and opposite Kunihiro Shimizu as the main threats on the Japan team. Shimizu is the World League's top scorer with 114 points from six matches, while Usami is the third-best setter. But that's as far as individual honors go for Japan. They don't register in the Top 10 blockers, servers, diggers, receivers or liberos. But if there was a stat for missed serves, Shimizu would definitely be among the leaders.

Bulgaria have two of the tournament's top eight scorers in Vladimir Nikolov and Matey Kaziyski, with Kaziyski being the top server, but they too lack in individual stars, the only other Top 10 player being libero Teodor Salparov.

But Prandi comes to Japan a week after a valuable win over Russia, coached by his friend Daniele Bagnoli.

"Bagnoli is one of my best friends in volleyball," Prandi told the media in Tokyo. "We played against each other for 20 years in the Italian Championship. But now we are the coaches of Bulgaria and Russia and he was a little bit nervous last weekend because he lost the first match to us.

"But he prepared with good emotions for the second match and they changed a lot between the first and second match. They played very well in the second match against us. We didn't play badly, but they played better. Bagnoli was very satisfied. I was not satisfied because it was him! But he remains a very good friend of mine."

Prandi hoped all his players would appeal to the Japanese fans, noting that Vladimir Nikolov used to play in Japan. He also warned that Kaziyski was coming into his best form.

"He's a really good player who is now getting into top shape," Prandi stated. "He needed a rest after the Italian Championship, but now he's improved."

Ueta noted that both teams had made a lot of mistakes in their first meeting in Bulgaria. Despite the setback against Cuba, he was looking for a positive response from his players.

"After six games in Pool C, we now know what we have to do," Ueta said. "Pool C is a tough group and with Russia, Bulgaria and Cuba, we're up against a very high level of play. But I will never lose the desire to challenge teams and put on exciting matches for the fans. We're going to give it our best tomorrow and the day after."

Ueta is hoping to be boosted by the return from injury of wing spiker Yu Koshikawa.

"He has many fans and they will come to the games to see him, so I expect him to live up to their expectations and do his best."

At their best, Japan can scare any team and they are probably due a good result. Backed by a strong Tokyo crowd in the noisy Ariake Colosseum, the pressure will be on Bulgaria. But Japan will need to keep their errors down and try to negate the spiking power of Nikolov and overall game of Kaziyski while hoping Shimizu, Koshikawa and Tatsuya Fukuzawa can find their attacking form.

It could be close.

  

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