Cordoba, Argentina, July 23, 2010 – In the first “quarterfinal” match of the third day of the 2010 FIVB World League Final Round, Cuba advanced to Saturday’s semifinals after defeating Italy 3-0 (25-17, 35-33, 25-22) at Orfeo Superdomo Stadium on Friday.
Cuba’s teenage sensation Wilfredo Leon topped the scores with 14 points while Alessandro Fei and Matej Cernic were the best for Italy with 12 points each.
Despite being on the wrong side of a 21:6 win:loss record in the World League against Italy, Cuba were quietly confident they repeat their 2009 performance and reach the semifinals. Italy, on the other hand, has new players, new combinations and their surprise qualification for the Final Round, their first since 2006, was already a major achievement for the eight-time champions.
With all at stake both teams started conservatively knowing two months of Volleyball came down to this game. Point-by-point both teams cautiously probed for an opening. Cuba’s impressive spiking gave them the first lead at 6-3 but Italy quickly fought back to tie the set at 6-6. In the end, Cuba’s superior blocking (5-0) and Italian mistakes gave the Caribbean team the set and the momentum.
The second set saw Italy’s experienced players Fei and Luigi Mastrangelo step up with lethal spiking while Cernic finally started finding his serving rhythm. Neither side could create enough of a lead to take advantage but there was a hint in the ear, Italy could sneak the set to continue the trend of the tournament, eg, five set matches.
However, Cuba’s Fernando Hernandez had other thoughts, and his exchange at the net with Fei was captivating, spike after spike as the score mounted until Italy were eventually pinged for a net infringement to give Cuba the decisive point and a key two-set lead.
Cuba had their tales up by now and raced to a 4-1 lead. With the writing on the wall, coach Andrea Anastasi called an Italian timeout, which made little difference. A second at 10-3 did and the world No. 7 started clawing their way back. Leon and Joandry Leal kept Cuba’s score ticking over, much to the frustration of Italian captain Valerio Vermiglio, and slowly but surely edged their way to victory. Some late cameos from Michal Lasko kept Italian faint hopes alive but when Cuba captain Robertlandy Simon slammed down his sixth spike of the match, the celebrations began – for Cuba.
Italy packs for home while Cuba plays eight-time champions and title holder Brazil in Saturday’s semifinal dreaming of returning to the podium for the first time since 2005.