Italians look to build on perfect start

Italy have yet to concede a set in the 2005 Grand Champions Cup

Tokyo, Japan (November 24, 2005): Two matches, two wins, no sets conceded...Italy have installed themselves as early favourites to win the men's World Grand Champions Cup. But head coach Gianpaolo Montali is not getting carried away by his team's impressive start to the six-team inter-continental championship. "We played well in both matches in Nagano, but now we must play better in Tokyo," he told a news conference on Thursday evening. "We wait for these three matches."

The European champions opened at Nagano Arena with 3-0 wins over China and Egypt, while world No. 1 Brazil had to work hard to hold off USA 3-1 and China 3-2. Thursday was a travel/training day, from the mountains of Nagano down to the big city, where action resumes Friday at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Earlier in the week, Brazil's head coach, Bernardo Rezende, said Italy may hold a slight advantage over their rivals because several players were with the same club, as opposed to being scattered across two continents. He was referring to Sisley Treviso, who provide captain and setter Valerio Vermiglio, plus Alberto Cisolla, Luca Tencati and Alessandro Fei to Montali's squad. This certainly seems to be the case so far, as Italy have clicked into gear instantly. Describing the Italian league as "the NBA of Volleyball", Montali also said his team had been playing well because they had worked very hard in the summer. "Three months with a new team, and they are young guys," he said. "We won the European Championship only one month ago and this team has stayed together. There is a good feeling in this team."

Italy will meet USA on Friday. USA's head coach, Hugh McCutcheon, admitted the Americans were still trying to find their rhythm as a team. "We are getting better every day, and last night (Wednesday) we played some good Volleyball (against Japan). We hope to continue this for the next three matches."

Egypt (0-2) and China (0-2) will open play on Friday.
Egypt's head coach, Ahmed Zakaria, blamed a lack of experience and self-belief for the opening night's 3-2 loss to Japan. "We are a young team, and our players did not believe they had qualified for this tournament," he told reporters. "Against Italy we tried to play but we could not because the Italian team is very strong."

China's Di Anhe said he felt there was still a wide gap between themselves and the top teams, and they would try and bridge it game by game.

Brazil and Japan will provide the evening entertainment on Friday, and Brazil's Rezende is expecting a "tough battle". "Right now we are thinking about Japan, who played an awesome game against the United States," he said, referring to the host team's 3-1 defeat at Nagano on Wednesday night. Japan's Tatsuya Ueta said they must forget about the loss to USA and focus on Brazil. "We have still three matches to go, and we always try to remember we are the challengers, so we can learn a bit more from the coming three games," said Ueta.

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