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Young Cuban team looking for progress under new coach

Rolando Cepeda is one of the few experienced players remaining in the Cuban team
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 31, 2014 – There was great relief when the Cuban volleyball players, who are no strangers to success, secured their ticket to the FIVB Men's World Championship for the 13th time in a row earlier this month.

The first step of the new start for the 2010 runners-up under new coach Rodolfo Sánchez was a success, even if the young team faltered slightly in one of the sets in their 3-1 (25-14, 26-28, 25-18, 25-12) victory over the Dominican Republic. A week earlier, in the Cuban capital Havana, the Cuban women's team qualified for the FIVB Women’s World Championship.

“Our team is young, but better in the physical, technical and tactical skills of the game than ever before,” said Sánchez. It was a brilliant start to a difficult task for the successful junior coach. 

Rodolfo Sánchez, who was an international in the 1990s, has taken over from the legendary Orlando Samuels Blackwood. He was forced to resign when Cuba won just one of its 10 preliminary matches in the FIVB World League. It was the worst ever performance in the country's history.

Sánchez has now turned almost exclusively to young players with potential. Last year’s top scorer, Astengo Yordan Bisset, has been left out of the squad, as have other international stars from the Caribbean island. Other world-famous names, such as Robertlandy Simon, Wilfredo Leon, Joandry Leal and Leonel Marshall, who play for top international clubs, are also missing from the socialist country's national team.

In an unusually candid interview with the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma at the start of the year, Ariel Sainz, President of the Cuban Volleyball Federation, admitted: “The major reason for the significant decline in our competitive results has been the disruptive campaign carried out by certain sectors in different countries, who, without showing any respect for the integrity of the Cuban federation, have bought Cuban players so that they abandon our national team.” 

As a result, wing-spiker Rolando Cepeda and middle blocker Isbel Mesa are the only players in the young team with World Championship experience. This means the team faces a hard task in the FIVB Men’s World Championship, which takes place from August 30 to September 21 in Poland, particularly with reigning champions Brazil, Germany, Korea, Finland and Tunisia waiting for them in the Preliminary Round. Cuba will contest the Finals as runners-up after losing 3-0 to Brazil in the final four years ago in Italy.

Silver was the fourth World Championship medal – after a silver and two bronzes – for Cuba's men's team. The main aim this time around is to develop the young team further rather than making it onto the podium. The powerful youngsters have huge potential, as ever, which they demonstrated in the qualifying tournament on their home turf in Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum. 

Rodolfo Sánchez was also satisfied: “The boys followed the tactical plan and reduced the errors. They played with courage, gave their best effort and showed a good attitude.” The experienced Rolando Cepeda was the highest-scoring of four Cubans in the final with double figures in the scoring charts, with a match high of 23 points. He was named MVP. 

“The team rose to the occasion in the difficult moments against a strong opponent,” Cepeda said after the final. “As we play more, we will make fewer errors and we are working on that.” 

The FIVB World League is the perfect opportunity to prepare. Cuba will take part for the 24th time in a row. Only record winners Brazil and Italy, who have contested every tournament to date, have made more appearances. 

Cuba are joined in Pool F by debutants Tunisia, Turkey and Mexico. This time around, they won't be playing against the world's best teams such as world champions Brazil or Olympic winners Russia. The planned return to the top may be on course, but it will take time.


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