Dubai: Defending champions Surprise have vouched to bounce back after their shock loss in their opener against F3 ‘A’ as the volleyball competition opened at the Sixth Nad Al Sheba (NAS) Sports Tournament at the Nas Sports Complex late on Friday.
The F3 ‘A’ team stunned defending champions Surprise 3-2 (25-20, 25-17, 14-25, 13-25, 15-12), while F3 powered their way to an easy 3-0 (29-27, 25-15, 25-23) victory against Leadersport in the two matches played on Friday.
The defending champions, sponsored by UAE national team playmaker Khamis Esmail, looked a jaded lot despite having two of the best players in their ranks — outside spiker Yoandy Leal Hidalgo and Robertlandy Simon Aties, middle blocker and former Cuba captain.
“This can happen to any team in any sport,” a disappointed Esmail told Gulf News later.
“The good thing from today’s match is that we have a lot to learn, and honestly this is our first match and all players need to have a feel of their teammates. I am sure we will fare better in the next match and advance to the knockout stages,” the team sponsor added.
Initially, it looked as though the presence of Aties and Hidalgo along with Abdullah Ali Al Mermari would suffice for the defending champions as they took an early 10-4 lead. But, led by the 6.7 ft Cuban Yosvany Carbonell Hernandez F3 ‘A’ managed to overcome the deficit each time the defending champions threatened to break free. Bahrain’s Mohammad Saleh Annan and UAE’s Hamdan Ganem Al Tahri also joined in along with libero Rashid Saleh Al Daheri as F3 ‘A’ rumbled towards an easy upset after taking the first two sets 25-20 and 25-15.
However, goaded on by team patron Khamis and close friend and UAE national team player Mohammad Fawzi, Surprise managed to fight their way back, taking the next two sets 25-14 and 25-13, to send the match into the deciding fifth set. But they couldn’t sustain the momentum as mistakes at crucial intervals cost them the set and match 15-12 to send the F3 ‘A’ camp into wild celebrations.
“The plan was to block out their No.10 [Aties] while putting No.9 [Hidalgo] under pressure at all times. This worked to perfection in the first two sets for us,” F3 ‘A’s Tunisian coach Mansali Ahmad told Gulf News.
“This is such a great start for us as we were disappointed after finishing third last year after losing to this same team in the semi-finals. We knew exactly how we had to play to be one up on them,” he added.
Presented with the Man of the Match award, Hernandez was pleased with the great start. “This win will give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the tournament. We have laid out the path and now we need to follow this in the next few games as well,” the Cuban said.