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Bulgaria, Finland, France turn up the heat in Round 5 of World League

Bulgaria has found its rhythm, heaping the pressure on Cuba and Russia
Lausanne, July 12, 2009 - Bulgaria, Finland and France all took major strides toward prolonging their 2009 World League appearances this weekend, each sweeping their Round 5 series with two matches left to play before the Final Round in Belgrade from July 22-26.

Bulgaria beat up on Pool C leaders Cuba in Havana, Finland all but knocked Poland out of the competition in Pool D and France snuck back into second place in Pool B with wins over Korea.

In Pool A, leaders the United States could feel Italy breathing down their necks after the Azzurri won four straight from the Netherlands leading up to their Round 5 encounter in Illinois. And after Italy's commanding 1-3 (25-20, 20-25, 22-25, 24-26) win over the U.S. on Friday, it looked as though the tide had truly turned. But to their credit, the U.S. bounced back big on Saturday, posting a 3-1 (25-19, 18-25, 25-22, 25-21) victory to keep the Italians four points off the pace heading into their final two matches next weekend in Italy.

"This was a great weekend for U.S. Volleyball fans," said U.S. coach Alan Knipe. "I am impressed with the improvement in Italy from just a couple weeks ago ... I thought we played with pride, passion and determination."

The Netherlands, meanwhile, fell further out of contention with a split against last-place China in Nanjing. The Dutch needed five sets and over two hours to dispose of the Chinese in the first match, before being stunned in straight sets (25-21, 25-20, 25-23) on Sunday. The Dutch now trail second-place Italy by 4 points.

In Pool B, because pool leaders Serbia have already qualified for the Final Round as hosts, the real battle boils down to France and Argentina. Only a single point separates the two teams following Round 5 after France took maximum points from Korea (winning 0-3 and 1-3) and Argentina split its series with Serbia (3-1, 2-3). That sets up a mouthwatering end to intercontinental round play, as France travels to Argentina for their final two matches.

In Pool C, Bulgaria finally started playing like the No. 4 ranked team in the world it is when it beat pool leaders Cuba 3-2 (13-25, 23-25, 25-23, 26-24, 15-10) on Saturday and 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-21) on Sunday. Almost written off at the tournament after a rocky start, the third-place Bulgarians now sit just two points behind Russia and five behind Cuba. Their next two matches are against Russia in Bulgaria, giving the squad renewed hope of qualifying for the Final Six in Belgrade.

"That was our best match in the World League," Bulgaria captain Plamen Konstantinov said of Sunday's victory. "That was the face of the team we all wanted to see. Statistics and tactics help a lot but if you do not have a winning mentality, everything else means nothing. I am glad that we lost the fear of our opponents today."

Russia, meanwhile, continued to sputter, splitting its matches with last-place Japan (3-0, 1-3).

In Pool D, Finland all but cemented its second-place position behind runaway leaders Brazil by rolling over third-place Poland 3-1 and 3-0 in Tampere, where the hosts won five of their six World League matches this year. The losses left Poland six points adrift of the Finns heading into the final two matches against each other next weekend.

Finland coach Mauro Berruto said he wasn't entertaining thoughts of the Final Six just yet, however. "We were really on fire from the beginning of the match," he said. "The team is really growing and today we again played as a unit. We aren't thinking yet of the Final Six. We are only thinking of the next two matches in Poland."

Brazil continued its domination at the tournament with two straight-sets victories over last-place Venezuela to remain an insurmountable 10 points clear of Finland. The Brazilians continue to boast the best record (9-1) in this year's World League, with a 29-6 set ratio.

Results after Round 5:

Pool A

1. USA, 7-3, 21 pts.

2. Italy, 6-4, 17 pts.

3. Netherlands, 4-6, 13 pts.

4. China, 3-7, 9 pts.

 

Pool B

1. Serbia, 6-4, 18 pts.

2. France, 6-4, 17 pts.

3. Argentina, 5-5, 16 pts.

4. Korea, 3-7, 9 pts.

 

Pool C

1. Cuba, 6-4, 20 pts.

2. Russia, 6-4, 17 pts.

3. Bulgaria, 5-5, 15 pts.

4. Japan, 3-7, 8 pts.

 

Pool D

1. Brazil, 9-1, 27 pts.

2. Poland, 6-4, 17 pts.

3. Finland, 4-6, 11 pts.

4. Venezuela, 1-9, 5 pts.

 

  
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