Havana, Cuba, July 18.- Cuba defeated Japan (25-17, 27-25, 22-25, 25-19) and advanced to the final round of the 20th World League as leaders of Poll C. Home team gave a display of power as a farewell gift for the almost 10,000 fans who gathered at Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum to watch them win.
It was a different Japan since the beginning. Maybe Cubans were too confident, but visitors made three points in a row. In a predictable play, setter Reydel Hierrezuelo gave the first ball to Cuban captain Roberlandy Simon, who was easily blocked. Simon calmed everyone down and Cuba started to make their game. Once again the blockers made the difference and soon Cuba took the lead.
After winning the first technical timeout, Cubans lost an easy point and Japan approached 8-9. Then a huge serve by Tatsuya Fukusawa forced Cuban libero Kleiber Gutierrez to leap over a fence to chase the ball, but he failed. The crowd started a “Roar Lion” chant, to cheer Wilfredo Leon up, and the 15-years-old top server in WL 2009 gave some hot stuff. Michael “Ruso” Sanchez got a couple of aces, and Cuban defense worked as a Swiss watch. The first set ended with a powerful spike right on the face of Japan captain Daisuke Usami. Simon leaded Cuban attack with 6 points, followed by Yoandi Leal and “Ruso”, with 4 each.
Once again Japan started ahead, but soon Cuba tied. The Nippon team tried harder and won both technical timeouts. Simon tied the set with a tricky move and a strong block. Then Simon showed why he is the captain in spite of being only 22 years old. He nailed the ball once and blocked a couple of opponent’s attacks and Cuba went ahead 20-19. Japan tied and went ahead, but lost the set point. Against all odds, Japan evened the score 25-25. Again an impressive block gave the set to Cuba, but Japanese players got a standing ovation. By the moment Simon had 11 points, 5 by blocks and one ace. Fukusawa was the best scorer for Japan with 11 points, including 2 aces.
The third set was also closed. Japan celebrated loudly some points and spectators booed them. Once again Nippon team took a three points lead. Camejo and Leal combined for a block and approached 14-15, but Japan wanted at least a set and finally got it 25-22.
After tripping the previous set, Cuba got into the fourth set ready to end the story. By the middle of the set home squad’s blockers outscored Japan’s 18-5. Besides, Cubans chose intelligence over power, placing the ball where no Japanese could reach it. Cuban head coach Orlando Samuells placed two setters in and it worked out really well. “Ruso” had a gracious night, with 17 points, 4 blocks and 2 aces. Captain Simon scored 20 points, 7 by blocks.
Japan never gave up but no way: Cuba won 25-19 and return to a final round for the first time since 2005. Havana said good-bye, now Belgrade awaits.