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25th FIVB World League: Cuba favourites to win first of three Finals in Bursa

Cuba take on China in the first group 3 semifinal on Saturday
Bursa, Turkey, June 26, 2014 - Bursa, Turkey, is the venue for a volleyball first on Saturday and Sunday as the Cengiz Gollu Volleyball Hall gets set to host the first of three Finals in the 25th edition of the FIVB World League.

The top four teams from pools F and G – hosts Turkey, hot favourites Cuba, China and Slovakia – will go head to head to determine the winner of Group 3, which originally consisted of eight of the 28 teams competing in this year’s competition. Records are falling all over the place as the annual showdown between the best teams in the world celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Turkish Volleyball Federation President Ozkan Mutlugil is proud that his country is hosting the first Finals in the new format. "We feel very honoured to be hosting the Finals of the 2014 FIVB World League in Turkey. This will allow our volleyball supporters to watch one of this year’s greatest international volleyball events. Bursa is a city of over 2 million inhabitants in north-western Turkey and is a sport-loving city. We hope that this event will contribute to the development of volleyball in Turkey."

Turkey, who won four of their six preliminary round matches, are ranked number 45 in the world and are making their debut in the FIVB World League. Like fellow debutants Slovakia, who won three of their six matches in the preliminary round, and who are ranked nine places above them, the Turks have made it through to the Finals at the first attempt. Turkey’s top hitter Metin Toy’s 107 points made him the second-highest scorer in Group 3 of the FIVB World League preliminary round, behind Maurice Torres of Puerto Rico (126).

Turkey play Slovakia in the second semifinal on Saturday (17.00 local time). "As hosts, Turkey are naturally the slight favourites," said Slovakia coach Flavio Gulinelli. "But like the other three teams, we are proud to have made it to these Finals. That's the icing on the cake."

World number seven Cuba, who head to Bursa as favourites, are far from satisfied with simply making it into the Finals, however.

The team is playing in the World League for the 24th time – only record winners Brazil and Italy (both 25) have made more appearances – and won the prestigious title back in 1998. Runners-up in the last World Championship, Cuba are in a rebuilding process, having endured the worst FIVB World League result in the country’s history last year, when the team won just one of its ten preliminary matches. And the Cubans appear to be on the right track under the guidance of new coach Rodolfo Sánchez. He has put together a young team, with Rolando Cepeda adding some valuable experience. The result was just one defeat against Turkey in the preliminary round.

The Cubans face tough opposition in the semifinal on Saturday (14.00), when they take on China, who also lost just once in the preliminary round. The Chinese are making their first appearance since 2010 in the showdown between the world’s top teams. Currently 18th in the world rankings, the team featuring top scorer Zhong Weijun, is particularly renowned for its strength when it comes to receiving service and defence. The final and third-place play-off will then take place in Bursa on Sunday, after which the first medals of this year’s FIVB World League will be presented.

The second Finals of this year’s FIVB World League will be contested between teams from pools C, D and E on the weekend of July 11-13 in Sydney, Australia. The winner qualifies for the Finals from July 16-20 in the city of Florence, Italy, when the top six teams in this year’s record-breaking event will do battle. This format is completely new and Bursa hosts the first major highlight of this spectacular anniversary season this weekend.

Click here to read the World League Intercontinental Round week 6 preview.

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