The Cuban men’s volleyball team will return to the Olympic Games this 2016 following a convincing 3-0 victory over Canada, during the Olympic qualifier in Edmonton.
The Cubans, who in 2015 lost to the Canadian team on four occasions, in the World League and the NORCECA Championship, traveled to the northern city armed with a team combining experienced players and newcomers, which secured them a favorable outcome of 25-15, 25-21, 25-21.
As such, they won their spot at the Río de Janeiro Olympic Games, having last competed at this level in Sydney 2000, where they finished seventh.
The Canadian team, which finished second in the Edmonton qualifier, now has the opportunity to qualify for Río in the next round, to be held in Japan in May. However, competition will be tough given the Asian and European teams also seeking to secure their Olympic spot.
A WHITEWASH VICTORY
The Cuban team, coached by former attacker Rodolfo Sánchez, included regulars captain and outside hitter Rolando Cepeda, and second outside hitter Javier Jiménez, who both play in the Greek volleyball league. Another regular player of the team, Osmany Uriarte, plays in Turkey, while middle blocker Liván Osoria plays in Argentina. The rest of the team is composed of middle blocker Luis Tomás Sosa, setter Ricardo Calvo and libero Gonder García.
Right from the beginning of the tournament, the Cubans demonstrated that they had trained hard, with a 3-0 win against Puerto Rico, followed by a second victory, this time against Mexico, also finishing with a score of 3-0. However, captain Cepeda noted that in both matches, the intensity dropped in the third set, making it very difficult to recover and dominate.
Speaking to the press following the match against Canada, Cepeda, who was the highest scorer with 21 points, stated, “It was high time, in 2012 we lost out on the opportunity to qualify for the London Games in a five-set match against Germany. We had suffered many defeats against the Canadians and this is the first time we have secured a win like this over them.” Canada is ranked tenth in the world, while the Cuban team is fifteenth.
The coaching staff of the Cuban team, led by Sánchez, was reinforced by Gilberto Herrera, a man of vast experience in the world of volleyball, together with former middle blocker Pavel Pimienta, who reported that they had carefully studied the playing style of their rivals, which helped secure victory.
Rodolfo Sánchez stated during the press conference, “I am extremely happy, we faced a strong opponent, but we were prepared and had studied very well to secure this victory. Qualifying for Río is very important for Cuban volleyball, I am very pleased with the team’s performance.”
Canadian captain, Fred Winter, acknowledged that his team had been unable to counter the service and attack of their opponents, allowing them to dominate the pace of the game. He noted that he had never seen the Cubans play with such speed and strength, despite having faced them on several occasions during 2015.
Meanwhile, the Mexican team will compete in another Olympic qualifier, also in May, thanks to their 3-2 win over Puerto Rico (23-25, 16-25, 26-24, 26-24, 15-10), which saw them finish in third place at the Edmonton tournament.
(Alfonso Nacianceno, Granma)