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Brazil attempt to complete 'world title double'

Sendai, Japan, July 12, 2005 - After Brazil's success in the men's World League last weekend, can the women's team complete a "double" by winning the final round of the 2005 World Grand Prix? This was the question put to head coach Jose Guimaraes on the eve of the six-team tournament, which starts on Wednesday and runs until Monday.

"It's difficult because we have only a young team, and the best six teams in the world are here," he said. "I am still learning about my players, about how they react at certain moments of the game and in moments of stress. It is important to know this."

Brazil, who have won the World Grand Prix four times, will begin the defence of their title against the Netherlands at Sendai City Gymnasium on Wednesday afternoon. Heavyweights China and Cuba will set the ball rolling in the first match of the day, and Italy and Japan will play the evening match.
Pic: The six coaches of the Final Round teams (from the left): Josť Guimaraes (BRA), Chen Zhonghe (CHN), Felipe Calderon (CUB),  Marco Bonitta (ITA), Shoichi Yanagimoto (JPN) and Avital Selinger(NED)
"China and Cuba are the strongest teams here," added Guimaraes. "Cuba have the same team as in Athens, with only two or three young players, and China have about eight from Athens. In this Brazilian team we have only one player from Athens, and this is the big difference. They have more experience at this level."

Olympic champions China arrived in Japan still smarting from a shock defeat to Italy in the last weekend of the Preliminary Round in Hong Kong. Since then, head coach Chen Zhonghe has been concentrating on defence and blocking, but is very happy with his attack. Overall, though, he thinks his players are feeling the effects of the Grand Prix schedule.

"They are not in the best condition after three weeks work," he admitted. "The team is a little tired. I think any one of the six teams could win here."

Cuban head coach Felipe Calderon described his captain, Yumilka Ruiz, as "definitely the leader" of the team, despite her making way for younger players in earlier rounds. Expect her to be firing on all cylinders in the opening match against China.

Italy are in good heart after beating China 3-0, a victory which head coach Marco Bonitta put down to his team making few errors, particularly on the crucial points. "We had lost many, many times in the past to China, and maybe we learned our lessons," said Bonitta. "Even though we are quite a young team, we are very determined and passionate and have courage, so all I can say is we will concentrate on each match and try our best."

Netherlands head coach Avital Selinger said the Grand Prix finals would be a learning experience for his team. "We had to work very, very hard to get here, and now we have to work on creating a tradition of playing in finals. Maybe we are not the youngest team by age, but we are in terms of
tradition, experience and playing at such a level. I hope our players can demonstrate their ability and show what they are capable of doing."

And so to the hosts. Japan will be playing in front of full houses at the 8,500-capacity gym on all five nights. Many of the fans will be there to cheer on the four team members from this region: Kaoru Sugayama, Ayako Onuma, Megumi Itabashi and Athens Olympian Ai Otomo. The first three even attended the same high school.
Pic: Libero Oliveira is part of a new-look Brazilian team aiming for back-to-back World Grand Prix titles
Head coach Shoichi Yanagimoto said he firmly believed the best six teams in the world were here, and he would be satisfied if Japan played to their best level.