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Ueta: Japan has to sort out mental problems

Japan's Kunihiro Shimizu is blocked by Cuba's Roberlandy Simon (left) and Wilfredo Leon on Saturday

Toyama, Japan, June 27, 2009 – Japan go into their sixth match in the World League on Sunday with the talent to hurt any team but also a fragile mentality that has seen them lose four of their first five matches.

Against Cuba on Saturday, Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta once again saw his team get into strong positions, but fade badly at the end of the sets. In the first set, Japan won only two of the last seven points, while in the second set they won two of the last eight. And in a crucial segment towards the end of the third set, Japan could only grab four out of 12 points.

“At the end of each set, we seem to have a problem with our mentality,” Ueta admitted. “The players have to communicate more with each other. We have to be stronger mentally.”

Tatsuya Fukuzawa was Japan's top scorer with 16 points – in fact he was the top scorer from both teams – but Ueta criticized him for poor receiving. Japan's other main attacker, Kunihiro Shimizu, had a mixed performance, delivering some decent spikes but suffering several blocks and having a disastrous serving day.

Japan captain Daisuke Usami admitted his team failed to deliver, not only to the fans, but also to their coaches.

“During the game, the Japan bench were giving us advice, but we couldn't carry it out, so we have to think this and about our mistakes,” he said. “If we had done what they asked of us, we might have won, so we really have to concentrate on this.”

“Compared to our win over Bulgaria, the team today did not play together well. It's important that we are all on the same page.”

Ueta noted that the teams in Pool C – Russia, Cuba, Bulgaria – are exceptionally tough, but it is not the other teams that are destroying Japan; it's the Japan themselves. They are failing to deliver the killer blow when they have the weapons in their hands. Should they find the missing element, then other teams should watch out.

“I think with a bit more effort Japan could become a strong team,” Cuba captain Roberlandy Simon said. “They are really quick and good at defense; they are tough opponents.”

But no less tough than Cuba. Simon had a good day, scoring a total of 12 points, but Cuba spread the joy of scoring around its team. Had 15-year-old Wilfredo Leon been a more accurate, he could have edged out his teammates as top scorer. As it is, the 201-cm teenager has awesome talent and will again be a danger to Japan with his strong serves, rocketing spikes and big blocks (he was the top blocker on the day for Cuba).

But Simon is not satisfied with his team's play.

“I think the team as a whole needs to raise its level in certain aspects of the game,” he stated.

His coach, Orlando Samuels, agrees:

“Today's game was not so good. Japan did well but made too many errors, especially service errors. For us, our receiving was not so good. I told my players to block together and put pressure on Japan's receiving. Tomorrow, we must improve our serving and receiving and look to put pressure on Japan.”

To be sure, the pressure will be on the home team, but Japan's performance on Saturday was marred by errors. If they can resolve that, Cuba will have a fight on their hands.


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