Varna, Bulgaria, September 12, 2018 – Poland started strong before things got a little dicey. Still the world champions were too strong for Cuba and escaped their opening match in Pool D of the 2018 FIVB Men’s World Championships with a 3-1 (25-18, 25-19, 21-25, 25-14) win.
More than 3000 Polish fans stormed the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna and transformed it into a sea of white and red. On paper this should have been a neutral site match. Instead the world champions have found a home away from home.
The start was blistering and shocking for the inexperienced Cuban squad (no player is older than 24 years). Smart serves by Michal Kubiak, a couple of bombs by Bartosz Kurek and barely five minutes into the contest Poland led 8-3 at the first technical time-out. A 6-1 series raised the difference to 16-8 and then Poland coach Vital Heynen decided to rest Kurek and Artur Szalpuk. That made absolutely no difference on the court as the world champions cruised to a 25-18 first set victory.
For a couple of points in the second set Cuba looked on level ground with the Poles. But then came the reality check. 8-4 at the first technical break, 16-12 at the second. That’s when Poland became somewhat lackadaisical in defense which cut the advantage to a mere two points at 20-18. However a spike error and a missed serve by Miguel Lopez and a bad reception by Marlon Yant ended the comeback bid – 25-19.
The multitude of talents possessed by Bartosz Kurek was on full display in the third set. First he became a member of the ground’s crew. After tumbling on the court he took the mop and dried the spot himself. Then a monstrous spike by Kurek put the Poles 16-15 ahead. But Cuba got the last laugh. Yohan Leon and Jesus Herrera both came big with aces off the bench and the boys from the Caribbean took the set 25-21.
Cuba quickly went 8:4 ahead in the fourth but the world champions won 12 of the next 14 points and never relinquished the lead. Damian Schulz with only his second point of the match put the finishing touches to the match at 25-14.
Artur Szalpuk was the top scorer for the winners with 20 points (17 spikes). Kurek added 17, Kubiak finished with 14.