Hosts set out as favourites at Pan American Cup in Cuba


The coaches of the eight teams participating in the Pan American Cup in Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba, March 17, 2015 – Hosts Cuba are seen as the team to beat among the sides in contention for the last ticket available for NORCECA and South America at the FIVB Volleyball U18 World Championship in Lima, Peru as the age-group Pan American Cup kicks off in Havana on Tuesday.

Puerto Rico, Chile, Costa Rica and hosts Cuba are the four teams grouped in Pool B, who will battle for the berth in Peru. The teams in Pool A will take the tournament as a warm-up for the FIVB event.

Puerto Rico coach Luis Aponte has several players carrying minor injuries in his squad and sees hosts Cuba as their main opponent as the two NORCECA sides clash on Tuesday, the opening day of the competition. “Cuba will be our biggest rivals - not disrespecting anybody - and that will be our first match and one of the toughest,” Aponte said. “We are facing some injury problems, but we work as a team and all the players must contribute their part.”

Cuba’s Tomas Fernandez said his team would want to perform well to pay homage to legendary coach Eugenio George. “He (George) created the training patterns for this group of players, so we have a double commitment, pay tribute to him and win the ticket to Peru,” Fernandez said. “We have trained for 15 months but our girls don’t have the competitive experience.”

Chile’s Hugo Jauregui also believes Cuba are the team to beat among those competing for the berth at the World Championship.

“There are very good teams, but Cuba is the one to beat,” Jauregui said. “We have worked all summer and before coming here we shared training with Peru, played some matches, and we are ready for battle.”

Costa Rica’s Andres Lopez ruled out his team as a serious contender, admitting it is not ready to compete for the top place of the pool.

“We come here to prepare our team for some regional events in Central America, like the U18 tournament next August, and the U20 in December,” Lopez said. “We have taken on the challenge of improving and learning from the girls in the other teams here.”

Brazilian Alexandre Ceccato, who coaches the Dominican Republic team, said his team's goal “is to continue preparation and get familiar with the playing style of some of the teams we might be facing during the World Championship.”

Argentina’s Mauro Silvestre believes the competition is an important milestone for players ahead of the event in Peru. “We are currently playing the finals of our national league and some players, including the main middle blockers, had to stay back,” Silvestre said. “But we will try the complete group next month at the U20 Pan American Cup in Santo Domingo.”

Peru’s assistant coach Edwin Jiménez said the U18 Pan American Cup is part of his team's plan to reach a peak next August, when they will be hosting the World Championship. “Our plan is to arrive at the World Championship in the ideal shape, both physically and technically,” Jiménez said. “This event will be a good thermometer to check the work done and give the team the international rhythm and make sure we are ready for the big challenge on home soil.”

Ricardo Naranjo, who is Mexico's Cuban coach, said the tournament is part of his group's development programme. “These players are taking part in their first international competition and the playing level in the area is high”, Naranjo said. “We are qualified for the World Championship, but there are players who need to be developed. Playing teams like Peru and Argentina is going to be a good experience.”


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