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Cuba goes for an unexpected sweep of Russia

Havana, Cuba, June 20, 2009 - Cuba will try to complete an unexpected sweep over Russia after a win last night in front of about 15,000 spectators who enjoyed the triumph at Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum.

The home team beat Russia in five sets (25-18, 24-26, 22-25, 25-23 and 15-11) and remain undefeated in Pool C of the 20th World League. Now Cuba's win-loss record improved to 3-0 in the WL qualifying round while Russia dropped to 2-1.

Russia head coach Daniele Bagnoli thinks pride will be a key factor this Saturday, but knows his players are phisically weaker than Cubans.

"Cuban players are in a great shape, and if they keeps this way, they will be a tough squad to defeat", said Bagnoli, who don't believe in the crowd's pressure, only in technical mistakes.

Cuban head coach Orlando Samuels knows his squad is in a great physically shape and praised the attitud of his players.

In a match dedicated to the late Luis Felipe Calderon, former Head Coach of Cuban's national teams, both teams showed a lot of potential and hunger of victory.

The home team was soon ahead 13-4, but after losing the second technical point, Russia rallied so fast and Samuells called a timeout to freeze their momentum. Cuba got back and kept a six point's lead until the end. Libero Kleiber Gutierrez was up to the challenge, with an almost suicidal defense; spiker Joandri Leal summed 5 points and Cuba won the set 25-18. 

Bagnoli rearranged the strategy and his squad showed the second set will be different. A better serve, a strong defense and an intelligent attack putted Russia ahead, and Samuells made a move the lifted everyone up in the Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum: Michael "Ruso" Sanchez got into the game and made the difference. Cuba tied the set 23-23 and got the set point, but Simon gave it away. Russia made then the two points and won the set 26-24.

By the third set, Russians looked more comfortable with heat, humidity and the crowd's pressure. On the other hand, Cubans seemed lost, predictable and out of confidence. Some referee's calls were booed, but visitors were really betters. Russia won the set 25-22.

Opener Rolando Cepeda returned and Cuba moved ahead for the first time since first set. Russia won the first technical time 8-7, but Leal and youngster Wilfredo Leon carried their team on to a 16-11 lead. But then again the lack of consistence showed up and Russia went ahead 20-19. Cuban's blocking worked then and gave the home team a lead that never lost. The noisy crowd got into Evgeny Sivozhelev's head, making the Dinamo's spiker lost the serve and the set (25-23).

Inspired by the chanting fans, Cuba started the tie-break with a 5-2 lead. But setter Diaz insisted with Leal and Russian blocked him. In a stubborn decision, Diaz gave Leal the ball once again, and the scoring leader of Cuban team didn't let him down. Russia never gave up, but Cuba was making everything better. At the end, Cuba won the set 15-11 and remained undefeated.


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