Fri, Nov 16, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Italy, US claim Olympic berths

AFP , NAGOYA, JAPAN

Italy's Francesca Ferretti, top, and Antonella del Core try to return a loose ball against Cuba during their Women's World Cup Volleyball match in Nagoya, Japan, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

European champions Italy and the US claimed Olympic berths in the women's volleyball when they beat Cuba and Japan respectively to secure a top three place in the World Cup yesterday.

The Italians outclassed the four-time World Cup winners Cuba 27-25, 25-19, 25-16 for a 10th straight win to become the first team to qualify for Beijing next year.

The US then guaranteed themselves a place when they powered past Japan 25-17, 25-14, 25-20.

The top three in the 12-team round-robin competition will be eligible for the Olympics.

Italy -- the 2002 world champions who came fifth in the 2004 Athens Olympics -- are on target to win their first World Cup with a clean sweep if they beat the US today.

Their highest previous finish was fourth in 2003.

Taismary Aguero, who won Olympic gold twice for Cuba but now plays for Italy, was the top scorer with 12 unstoppable winners.

"I'm really happy to win the ticket for Beijing. I think we became stronger and stronger in each match through the tournament, working together. This is the result of how we've improved. I'm happy about it," Italy captain Eleonora Lo Bianco said.

Italy coach Massimo Barbolini agreed that his team had improved significantly and said he was already looking forward to preparing for the Olympics.

"Every team has something to improve, for sure, but I have to think about it over the following months what we can do, from now to the Olympic Games," he said.

Earlier in the day, world silver medalists Brazil whipped Serbia 25-13, 25-14, 25-21, keeping their Olympic hopes alive with an 8-2 win-loss record.

Asian bronze medalists Thailand won their match against Peru 25-23, 25-22, 25-17, while the Dominican Republic breezed past African champions Kenya 25-19, 25-16, 25-18.

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