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Gruszka ready to return for Poland

Piotr Gruszka (nearest the camera), the 2009 European Championship MVP, will play for Poland against Puerto Rico this weekend
Plock, Poland, June 22, 2011 - During the fifth weekend of the 2011 FIVB World League the Polish men's team will play in Plock for the first time in the history of the tournament. Plock is the headquarters of one of the sponsors of the Polish Volleyball Federation, the petrochemical giant PKN Orlen who last year opened the small but modern Orlen Arena in which two matches against World League debutants Puerto Rico will take place.

It is now certain that in the “White-Reds” team we will see for the first time in this year's tournament Poland’s most experienced player, Piotr Gruszka (147 matches in 12 editions of the World League), who will replace Karol Klos. The 34-year-old team captain, a silver medalist in the 2006 World Championship and MVP in the 2009 European Championship when Poland won the title for the first time in their history, had a tough 2010/2011 season. He left his Turkish club before his contract expired and had surgery on his right shoulder, going through a long recovery.

In May, following the departure of Poland’s main opposite, Mariusz Wlazly, Gruszka decided to join the other 19 players in training for the World League but with more of a view to competing in the European Championship in September and then the 2012 Olympic Games in London. However he has managed to regain full fitness in time for the matches against Puerto Rico and coach Andrea Anastasi will certainly be considering him 8for the World League Final Round in Gdansk. “If I see that Piotr is ready to help us I would like to use his experience,” said Anastasi. “However, we have others who can cope.”

Anastasi is talking primarily about Zbigniew Bartman, who plays as a receiver for his club but was switched by Anastasi to opposite a few weeks ago and has done surprisingly well, scoring 104 points in eight games, the most in the team. However, with matches against Brazil coming up during the last weekend of the Intercontinental Round, not to mention the Final Round itself, Anastasi knows he needs options and matches in Plock against the Pool A outsiders, who have won just two sets in eight games, should be the perfect opportunity to test Gruszka's current capabilities. “It’s too soon for me to play in the starting line-up but I hope I have a chance to play a few balls,” Gruszka said.

After the team returned home from their exhausting three-week tour to Brazil, Puerto Rico and USA Anastasi said that Gruszka was the only doubt in the squad for this weekend. However, in the match against USA 33-year-old Krzysztof Ignaczak pulled a muscle and the coach may not want to risk exacerbating an injury to his most experienced libero, in which case we may see instead 21-year-old Pawel Zatorski, who has been travelling with the team from the beginning of the tournament but watching the games from the stands.

The visitors from Puerto Rico have been in Plock since Monday evening and have already had two training sessions in the Orlen Arena. Taking into consideration the class of both teams and previous results in this year's World League it will be a great surprise, if not a sensation, if Puerto Rico gained even a point from the games in Poland. “We came without any wins, any points, so we will fight for every point,” Hector Soto, the captain of Puerto Rico, said during the pre-match press conference. Gruszka said: “We know we are the favourites for these matches, but we don't want to think about ourselves that way. Every opponent deserves respect.”

The matches will take place on Friday at 20:30CET and Saturday at 17:00CET and, as usual for the World League in Poland, a full house is expected. “We are very happy that almost all the tickets have been sold, even though Plock is not a volleyball city,” said Anastasi. “It is a handball ‘mecca’ and we know it is hard to compete for the fans with another major sport in Poland.”

  

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