Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cuba conquers U.S. in tense volleyball semi-final

Thu Oct 20, 2011 12:11am EDT

By Rex Gowar

GUADALAJARA (Reuters) - Cuba's volleyball women beat arch-rivals the United States 3-1 in a highly charged semi-final at the Pan-American Games Wednesday to keep their title defense on track.

The holders will meet Olympic champions Brazil, whom they upset in the previous final at the 2007 Rio de Janeiro Games and who eased into Thursday's final beating the Dominican Republic 3-0 in the second semi-final.

The Americans had looked destined to go down quickly after losing the opening two sets 25-17 and 25-16 but hit back to take the third 27-25 before Cuba wrapped up the fourth 25-21.

"I think we played a good game today and established a difference from the beginning," said Cuba captain Yusidey Silie, whose team rocked their opponents with some fierce serving.

The majority of the crowd that packed the arena were rooting for the Cubans in a Mexican show of Latin solidarity, but U.S. captain Cynthia Barboza shrugged off the partisan support.

"I think the fans here are great, they bring a lot of energy," she said. "They haven't really been cheering for us all tournament," she added with a laugh. "But we love playing here."

Volleyball clashes between the U.S. and Cuba now rival baseball as an arena for the two nations' intense rivalry.

Cuba, coached by Juan Carlos Gala, blasted a number of aces and their aggressive serving was a constant edge.

"Cuba put a lot of pressure on us with their serves, a lot of heat. I think in the third set we adjusted well," U.S. coach John Banachowski said.

"I'm proud of the way our team fought today, especially in the third and fourth sets ... now we're going to refocus and set our sights on winning the bronze tomorrow," added Barboza of the playoff with the Dominican Republic.

Cuba will look to retain their title with a raw squad including five 19-year-olds, among them the powerful Gyselle Silva, one of several players on the team with a strong and accurate spike.

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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