Cuba and Serbia started their 2009 World League Final Six campaigns off on winning notes. Serbia beat Olympic Champion and current World League title-holders USA 3-0, while Argentina took a big step away from the semifinals with 1-3 loss to Cuba.
Cuba took advantage of a nervous start by Argentina, jumping out to a five-point advantage at 13-8. Argentina’s lack of concentration saw them lose seven points on errors. As the point difference grew, it seemed the first set would be easily won by Cuba, but Gustavo Scholtis helped Argentina cut the difference to 19-17. That was as close as Javier Weber’s team got, however, and the set went to Cuba 22-25. Argentina regrouped in the second set and held the lead until Cuba succeeded in taking a 2-point difference. Argentina introduced Lucas Ocampo instead of Rodrigo Quiroga and his service lifted them into a 14-11 advantage. Strong determination of the part of the Cubans put them back ahead at 18-15, thanks in particular to excellent play by Joandry Leal and Roberlandy Simon. Cuba led until 21-20, when Argentine middle blocker Gabriel Arroyo brought his team the first set ball and scored to win the second frame 25-22.
The score seesawed in the third set but Argentina let at the first technical timeout 8-4. The Cubans bounced back and roared ahead with Wilfredo Leon at the service line. With three aces in a row, Cuba made it 23-20, but a stubborn Argentina held on to level the score once again. But Leon would not allow his rivals to get back in the match and the set ended 24-26 in favor of Cuba. In the fourth set Cuba led at the first TTO 8-5, but Argentina succeeded to get back in front with firm blocking and good serves and took a 16-12 lead into the second TTO. Once again, Cuba managed to fight back with the blocks of Osmany Camejo and Simon at 22-21, but Scholtis scored from the counter attack to tie the score at 22. But with the score level at 24, Cuba dug deep to secure the two final points to win the set and the match.
“It was a good match, both teams were trying to do their best to win the match, the only difference is that we took advantage of our chances,” said Cuba captain Simon. ?We had a lot of ups and downs in the match, and we will work to improve.”
Serbia took the lead right from the start, rushing to a 5-2 advantage before USA coach Alan Knipe called for a timeout. At the first technical timeout, the lead was reduced to one point (8-7), but Nikola Grbic and his teammates managed to score four points in a row to restore some breathing room. Knipe tried once again to wake up his team, but Serbia reached the second technical timeout leading 16-11. The advantage was even bigger after a mistake by Sean Rooney, and Ivan Miljkovic?s slam for 19-12. Knipe introduced Evan Patak to serve, but the net blocked the way. The “Blue Boys” were up 21-14 when Clayton Stanley served to make it closer at 22-18. A Dragan Stankovic-Grbic block brought the hosts closure of the first set at 25-20. At the beginning of the second set both teams played point-by-point, and by the first technical timeout Serbia was up 8-7. Grbic scored for a 10-8 lead, followed by a mistake by the American team. Once again, Grbic played the starring role to make it 12-9 on the scoreboard. However, the American team soon clawed back to tie the match. The visiting team raised its level of play and at the second technical timeout the U.S. was up one point (15-16). The advantage got even bigger at 19-21, after two errors from Igor Kolakovic?s side. The Serbian coach called for a timeout, which helped the “Blue Boys” get back in their rhythm and close the set by scoring several points in a row to finish 25-23.
Serbia started better in the third set, with Grbic combining well with his teammates and single-handedly blocking his side to an 8-4 lead at the first technical timeout. At this point, Knipe substituted his setter, Kevin Hansen for Donald Suxho. However, Serbia continued playing well and maintained their advantage at 12-8, but slowed a little before the second technical timeout (16-14). After that, the visiting team woke up, and David Smith?s block brought them level. Kolakovic changed his receivers to stabilize the team, with Bojan Janic replaced by Nikola Kovacevic. The Serbian team regained its confidence, reduced the number of errors in attack, and Milos Nikic blocked Stanley to make it 22-18. Marko Podraącanin won the penultimate point and Grbic smashed for the triumph.
“We fulfilled our promise to give our best”, said Serbian head coach Igor Kolakovic. “We had a team work, good control of the ball, and calmness when it was very much needed. This was the first obstacle that we overcame tonight and made it easier for us to go on in this phase of the event.”
World League 2009 results and ranking