Lausanne, Switzerland, November 13, 2017 – Puerto Rico and Cuba snatched the last two spots available at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Italy and Bulgaria as drama unfolded on the last competition day of the last qualification tournament that took place from Friday through Sunday in Pinar del Rio. With a 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-22) win against Guatemala in Sunday’s first match, Mexico stayed within reach of the top two positions in the standings. However, hosts Cuba took what they needed, a 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 30-28) victory over Puerto Rico, as both teams surpassed Mexico on point ratio in a three-way tie.
As all three teams finished with a 2-1 win-loss record and a 6-3 set record, Puerto Rico’s point ratio of 1.157 and Cuba’s 1.124 placed them ahead of Mexico (on 1.052) in the final standings, handing the two Caribbean nations the last two tickets to Italy-Bulgaria 2018, which were at stake at this four-way single round robin NORCECA qualification tournament. This confederation will also be represented at next year’s World Championship in September by USA, the Dominican Republic and Canada, who took the top three places at the NORCECA continental championship.
Puerto Rico’s captain Angel Perez lifting the tournament trophy
After shutting out Cuba the previous day, the Mexicans cruised to another straight-setter on Sunday claiming a 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-22) victory over winless Guatemala in just 77 minutes of play. Daniel Vargas made the biggest point contribution to the win as he made 18 points to outscore all his teammates. He also became the tournament’s best scorer with a total of 54 points. Guatemala’s Andy Leonardo topped the match charts with 21 points.
“The important thing is that we showed our character. I am proud of my boys regardless of what happens in the Cuba v Puerto Rico match. What can I say about yesterday's historic victory - I do not remember when the Cubans had lost to our national team, at least never in their own backyard,” Jorge Miguel Azair, technical director of Mexico, said.
Mexico’s captain and setter Pedro Rangel spikes against the block of Guatemala’s Leonel Aragon
The battle between Cuba and Puerto Rico was tough. The home guys needed a mandatory three-set win and it did not come easy – after 96 minutes of play and a dramatic overtime in the third set that shaped up the eventual 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 30-28) final score. Miguel Gutierrez stood out as the top scorer of the match with 20 points for Cuba. His teammate Miguel Lopez added another 16, while Ezequiel Cruz was Puerto Rico’s most prolific player with 17 points.
The Cuban team overwhelmed with joy upon qualifying for Italy-Bulgaria 2018
“Our team came out with its usual claw and determination,” Cuba’s captain Livan Osoria said. “We could not waste this opportunity to reach the World Championship, for which our country made so much effort.”
“We wanted to win this last game. We did not, but we still fulfilled our goal,” said Puerto Rico’s captain Angel Perez, who was also honoured as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. “I am double-happy because I have Cuban blood. My whole family comes exactly from this province of Pinar del Rio."
Several players from Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico were individually awarded during the closing ceremony at the 19 de Noviembre hall