Pool A kicked off the action last week: first encounters between Japan and Russia, Serbia and Cuba were held on Thursday, 28 June. FIVB Hero Kunihiro Shimizu looked unhappy with his team’s performance and entered the round determined to improve matters. And indeed, he took Team Japan to a 2-0 lead, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Russian FIVB Hero Maxim Mikhaylov, whose appearance on the court turned the game around completely, taking Russia to a 3-2 victory (20-25, 24-26, 25-19, 25-17, 15-11).
The encounter between hosts Serbia and group leaders Cuba was no less tense. Winning sets in turns, the teams led the match to a thrilling tie break, in which FIVB Hero Wilfredo León’s powerful serves proved decisive: 2-3 (26-24, 16-25, 25-21, 24-26, 13-15).
FIVB Hero Maxim Mikhaylov took his team’s failure to reach the World League finals close to heart: “It just feels wrong that last year’s champions should miss the finals this time”, he confessed. His team spent the rest of the weekend in a fighting mood, managing to beat Cuba 3-1 and Serbia 2-3. Even a great performance by Serbian Sasa Starovic in the latter game didn’t secure his team the second place in the Pool: with an equal amount of points (20), Team Russia won out due to a better won-lost games ratio (8-4 Russia and 6-6 Serbia).
Japan sadly failed to win a single game at this edition of the World League and ended up as the underdog of the tournament.
We can’t wait to find out who will make it to the top of the finals in Sofia! Will it be Wilfredo León from Pool A? Find out very soon on FIVBheroes.com!