54 minutes ago
TOKYO (AFP) — European champions Italy powered past Thailand in their bid for an Olympic berth next year on the opening day of the women's World Cup volleyball tournament on Friday.
The Italians, who defeated world champions Russia in the European championships last month to sent them out of the World Cup, rallied to a straightforward 25-14, 25-14, 25-16 victory over the Asian bronze medallists.
Taismary Aguero was the heroine of the 54-minute game scoring 14 points.
"For me, it's the same as when I played for Cuba. It's a great honour to play for a national team and it's a big chance for me to play for the Italian team when I was asked to play," said Aguero who now plays for Italy after winning the Olympic gold medal twice for Cuba.
"My goal is to continue to win in the World Cup," she added.
Thai coach Nataphon Srisamutnak admitted that Italy played at a higher level, using their height advantage to hit an array of powerful attacks.
"They are the best team in Europe. We just try to work harder and harder in this tournament," said Nataphon.
European silver medallists Serbia, who captured the world bronze medal as a unified team with Montenegro last year here, also got off to an easy start with a 25-21, 25-23, 25-15 win over South Korea earlier in the day.
"It is always difficult to play in the first game of the tournament, but we made a really good start to win this first match," said Serbian coach Terzic Zoran after the 67-minute match.
"We made a very good serve to help us win in three sets. I expect us to improve as the tournament goes on."
His team's top scorer, power spiker Jelena Nikolic, agreed that they were not playing their best.
"We won this game because we were more concentrated at the critical moments. We did not play so good today, but it was enough to win," said Nikolic, who scored 17 points.
In Hamamatsu, central Japan, Cuba overwhelmed Kenya 25-11, 25-18, 25-20, while the United States whipped Peru 25-23, 25-14, 25-19 in the 12-team round robin competition.
"We had no information about Kenya, so the first set was difficult, but after that, we knew we were better than them and we used some of our reserve players, who did very well," said Cuban coach Antonio Perdomo.
"But against the United States tomorrow, we know we must put up a better performance than we did today if we want to win."
The top three teams of the tournament will qualify for the Beijing Olympics next year to join hosts China, the Asian silver medallists.