World League 2009 reached the halfway point on the weekend, with Brazil remaining the only unbeaten team at the tournament following two victories over Poland in Round 3.
Defending champion the United States also won its matches to improve to 5-1, while Cuba swept aside Japan to stay 3 points ahead of Russia, who split its series with Bulgaria in Pool C action.
Pool A: After an opening day loss to the Netherlands, the United States have now gone five matches without a defeat to lead Pool A on 14 points, 3 points ahead of second-place Holland. The Americans cruised to two straight-sets victories over China in San Jose, California, in Round 3, beating the visitors 25-20, 25-19, 25-21 on Friday and 25-20, 25-23, 25-22 on Sunday. “I think the difference (between the teams) was a big dose of David Lee,” Knipe said. “With seven blocks he controlled the match and set the tempo.”
The Netherlands fell from first after two losses at the hands of a much-improved Italian team, who won 2-3 (25-21, 25-23, 19-25, 15-25, 9-15) on Friday and 0-3 (23-25, 15-25, 20-25) on Sunday in Holland. For Italy coach Andrea Anastasi, the wins were a crucial step toward remaining in the competition after opening the tournament 1-3. “We lost three matches ahead of this weekend and by winning these games we are still in the tournament,” Anastasi said. “We have to improve step by step, day by day and match by match.”
Pool B: France set out to claim first place in Pool B by winning both its matches at home against Korea this weekend, and they didn’t disappoint. France improved to 4-2 at the tournament with a 3-1 (25-18, 25-19, 16-25, 25-21) victory Friday, and a marathon five-set win on Sunday, 25-23, 24-26, 34-32, 20-25, 15-10, in a match that took almost two and a half hours to finish.
Serbia, meanwhile, moved into second place with a 3-0 (25-15, 27-25, 25-19) win over Argentina on Sunday, despite dropping the opener on Friday 2-3 (25-20, 22-25, 25-18, 23-25, 13-15). In the tightest pool of the tournament, France leads Serbia by 1 point (11 to 10), while Argentina (8) and Korea (7) are still in contention in third and fourth place.
Pool C: Cuba and Russia went into Round 3 with identical 3-1 records but the South Americans came out of the weekend three points clear of their rivals after two convincing straight-sets victories over Japan, while Russia shared the spoils of its two-game series with Bulgaria. Russia coach coach Daniele Bagnoli said he was pleased with the way his team played Sunday after a disappointing performance a day earlier. “I am very pleased that after the defeat we found a way to significantly improve. The first match gave me some vital information about my players. I also came to understand which of the things I tried didn’t work.”
Cuba beat Japan 22-25, 19-25, 25-27 on Saturday and 22-25, 21-25, 18-25 on Sunday to improve to 15 points, while Russia took it on the chin Saturday in Khabarovsk, losing 29-31, 25-16, 23-25, 20-25, before bouncing back Sunday with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-18, 25-22) win.
Pool D: After three rounds, it appears that any team hoping to win the 20th edition of the World League will have to find a way to beat Brazil, who won their sixth consecutive match at the tournament this weekend. Brazil didn’t lose a set against Poland, beating the hosts 23-25, 22-25, 10-25 on Saturday and 19-25, 21-25, 20-25 on Sunday. The South Americans now enjoy an 8-point lead over second-place Finland, who won both its matches over Venezuela, 3-2 (19-25, 26-24, 24-26, 25-13, 27-25) on Friday and 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-19) on Saturday.
Finland will now attempt to hold on to second in the group to hopefully be selected as the wild card for the Final Round in Serbia next month. The first-place finishers from each pool advance along with hosts Serbia, while the FIVB will pick one wild card from among the runner-up finishers in each group. Finnish coach Mauro Berruto was pleased with the progress his team is showing and is confident Finland can give their next two opponents, Brazil and Poland, a run for their money. “I am happy today,” Berruto said. “I saw what I wanted to see … We will be better against Brazil and even better against Poland.”