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Samuels wary of 'strong' Japan team

Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta (left) poses with Cuba coach Orlando Samuels.

Toyama, Japan, June 26, 2009 – If the pre-match press conference for Week 3 of the World League was a competition for local support, then Cuba already has the advantage.

Cuban coach Orlando Samuels greeted the media at Toyama City Gymnasium by declaring: “I'm really looking forward to playing in Toyama and I want to show the fans in Toyama some exciting games.”

But Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta was unable to rise to the challenge when asked if he would field any players from Toyama Prefecture.

“Sorry, the team has already been decided,” he said with a laugh. The best he could do was a player each from the neighboring prefectures of Nagano and Ishikawa.

In the serious business of World League volleyball, where they are battling Russia, Cuba and Bulgaria in Group C, Ueta recognizes that Japan has some catching up to do.

After dropping the first two matches against Russia, Japan managed to split last week's matches in Bulgaria.

Cuba beat Bulgaria in their first two matches but then split the next series against Russia.

“We are not at the level of Russia, Cuba and Bulgaria,” Ueta admitted. “The Cubans are at a high level and I want my players to learn from them.”

Samuels recognizes that Japan is a well-balanced team and is not taking the Toyama matches lightly.

“Japan has some tall players and is a strong team, so we'll need to play our best,” he noted.

He is keen to bring more consistency to his team after errors hurt them against Russia.

“Some of our players are very young, so they don't have good concentration; I need them to concentrate more,” he stated.

One player that has caught the media's attention is 15-year-old Wilfredo Leon, who is 201 cm tall.

“He's been in the national team since last year and has to work on a lot of things, especially his technical skills,” Samuels explained. “I want him to learn from the Russian, Bulgarian and Japanese players.”

Samuels noted that Cuba was much stronger in the early 1990s and he is hoping to take the Caribbean team back to that level.

Cuba is currently ranked 18th in the world, compared to ninth for Japan, but Ueta believes that the Cubans are still one of the best teams in the world.

“They are all skillful players,” he stated.

Ueta can take heart from a fighting display in Bulgaria, but says the trip has taken its toll on some of his players.

“Some of the players are jet-lagged, so we need to get them in top condition,” he said.

One of the keys, he added, would be dealing with high blocks, which all the teams in Group C of the World League are capable of performing. Japan, meanwhile has improved its own blocking since the defeat against Russia.

“We were able to win in Bulgaria because our defense worked well,” Ueta pointed out.

But he will be hoping his main attacker, Kunihiro Shimizu, can repeat the 25 points he scored against Bulgaria.

Japan performed well against Russia but could not find the extra ingredient to convert pressure into victory. With the Bulgarian win fresh in their minds, they may now be ready to overcome that hurdle.


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