Team Canada’s opponent in The NORCECA Olympic qualifier semifinal was defined this Thursday as Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico defeated Mexico 3-1 (25-21, 25-23, 20-25, 25-19) in the quarterfinals in the most intense match of the tournament so far. The Canadians play Puerto Rico this Friday at 9:00 p.m. EST. Canada stands out as favourite against the Ricans, who they beat last Tuesday 3-0. In pool play, Puerto Rico lost to Cuba and Canada (both 0-3) beating Dominican Republic (3-0). Canada hasn’t dropped a set, sweeping past Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Only one spot will be given out for London Olympics in this qualifier. The last time Canada participated in men’s volleyball at the Olympics was in Barcelona 1992, when they placed 10th.
Canada is expected to maintain the starting-six that was seen against Cuba on Wednesday, with Toon van Lankvelt and Fred Winters (left sides), Steve Brinkman and Justin Duff (middles), Josh Howatson (setter), Gavin Schmitt (opposite), and Dan Lewis (libero). The back-up players are Nicholas Cundy and Gord Perrin (left sides), Adam Kaminski (middle), Dustin Schneider (setter), and Dallas Soonias (opposite). Glenn Hoag is the head coach.
USA vs. Cuba
The Cubans confirmed their favouritism as they took only one hour to trounce Trinidad & Tobago in three (25-18, 25-13, 25-16) in the other quarterfinal match. They will play USA in the second semifinal this Friday at 11:00 p.m. EST. Team Cuba has two main spikers: Wilfredo Leon, an 18-year-old phenomenon considered one of the best left sides of the world and Fernando Hernandez, a scoring machine that plays as opposite hitter. The Americans (reigning Olympic champions) have one of the most experienced squads among the powerhouses. Left side Reid Priddy, who joined the USA national team in 1999, keeps showing his skills while opposite Clayton Stanley (a veteran from early 2000s) still pounds the ball away and also remains as one of the world’s best servers.
The USA-Cuba clash is a must-see. In their last meeting in early December at the 2011 World Cup, USA won a five-set thriller, getting revenge after losing in five sets to Cuba in 2011 Norceca championships final in September. Previously in July at the 2011 World League finals, USA had won a five-setter against the Cubans. As it is always a very balanced match, it is hard to say which one is the favourite in this semifinal match. The Americans have the advantage of playing in front of their home crowd. The Walter Pyramid Gymnasium is a 5,000 seat venue.
Team Canada’s win over Cuba (runner up in the last world championships in 2010 and also Norceca champions in 2011) made news in some countries where volleyball is popular such as Italy, Poland, Brazil, and Argentina. Those outlets described Canada as the biggest surprise of the tournament. Still, some of them pointed the semi USA vs. Cuba as the anticipated final.
The berth for the London Games will be decided on Saturday at 11:00 p.m. EST. The Norceca Olympic qualifier is broadcast live on: www.usavlive.com.