When Cuba lost its first set against Russia in the Under-21 Volleyball World Championships, some might have thought that that would be it for the team.
However, Nicolás Vives’ squad performed a characteristic comeback to advance to the final on Sunday, July 2, in Brno, the Czech Republic, where they were eventually defeated (25-20, 25-10, 25-19) by the only team not to have lost a single game during in the tournament: Poland, winner of eight matches for a total of 24 successful sets, and six losses.
Following the final, Vives congratulated the champions noting, “They are a very strong team, but I’m proud of our squad and am happy with this silver medal,” he added.
Poland once again stole the limelight in this sport, after its men’s team won the World Championship in 2014. To these results must be added the squad’s fifth place finish in last year’s Río de Janeiro Olympic Games, behind Argentina, Iran, and Canada.
Cuba and Poland both achieved the impossible this July 1, after the Caribbean team brought Russia’s run of three consecutive championship titles (2011, 2013 and 2015) to an end ; while the Europeans defeated two-times winners Brazil, sending both teams to battle it out for the bronze, with Russia finally triumphing in sets of 25-16, 25-16, 25-19.
Speaking to Granma about the final and semi-final matches, receiver Miguel David Gutiérrez and wing Osniel Melgarejo explained that, on both occasions, the team had gone out to give it their all. Meanwhile, despite defeating Russia to make it to the final both players agreed that Poland was the toughest team.
Cuba’s victory reminds me of a similar performance by the island’s Under-21 team in Pune, India 2009, following which various players went on to become members of the men’s silver-medal winning team in the 2010 World Championships in Italy, where Brazil defeated Cuba 3-0 in the final.
This latest achievement is the result of the squad’s hard work, led by coaches Nicolás Vives, and Yosvany Muñoz, with the support of other members of the management team.
Vives, known to be a jovial but demanding coach, has instilled in his students the desire and drive to win.
This time it was the team’s effective attack that saw Cuba reach the Sunday final.
In this sense, receiver Miguel David Gutiérrez, alongside wings Miguel Ángel López and Osniel Melgarejo dominated on court, as well as centers José Massó and Javier Concepción.
Special mentions must go to the team’s captain, passer Eduardo Goide, while libero Lionnis Salazar and second receiver Marlon Yang also contributed to Cuba’s success.
Meanwhile, the majority of players will be faced with an even greater challenge as they prepare to compete in the Under-23 World Championship from August 26-18, in Egypt.
Cuba’s results in the Under-21 competition are as follows: 0-3 vs. Russia; 3-0 vs. USA; 3-0 vs. Turkey; 3-2 vs. Iran; 3-1 vs. China; 3-1 vs. Russia (semi-finals) and 0-3 against Poland in the final.