Surgut, Russia, July 8, 2009 - Heading into the
second-to-last weekend of pool play in the 2009 FIVB World League, Russia finds
itself in an unfamiliar situation. The third-ranked team in the world, which
has made the Final Round in every one of its 14 Would League participations so
far, needs a miracle to avoid an early exit from this year's edition.
The Russians fell further behind in the race for first in
Pool C after splitting their two matches with Cuba last weekend in Khabarovsk.
They now sit in second place at 5-3, 5 points behind the Cubans (6-2).
To catch up to the leaders, the Russians not only have to
gain maximum points against Japan (2-6) this weekend and Bulgaria (3-5) on July
17-18, but also hope the Cubans lose more than 5 points in their matches
against the same opponents. At this point it's probably more realistic for the
Russians to hope to get a ticket to the Final Round in Belgrade by winning the
single wild card from the FIVB.
However, Russian coach Daniele Bagnoli wants his team to
collect maximum points in the games left. "As long as we have a slim
chance we should cling to it," he said.
Russia should be extremely confident of winning this
weekend against Japan, not only due to their victories over the Asian team this
year but also because they hold a 22-2 advantage historically against Japan.
But Bagnoli knows better than to take Japan lightly. "Japan can be very
dangerous if they have the right motivation and play with enthusiasm," he
Surgut, a western Siberian city, will be hosting its
first Would League matches, which will be played at the 4,500-capacity Sparta