Poland win maiden World League title
SOFIA (Reuters) - Poland clinched their maiden World League title after a straight sets win over Olympic champions the United States in the final of the competition at the Armeets Arena on Sunday.
"I'm really happy," Poland's Italian coach Andrea Anastasi told a news conference after his men earned the $1 million cash prize.
"It is the first gold medal for Poland in the World League and for me as a coach and this is important."
Although Poland comfortably won the first set 25-17, the U.S. - trying to win the competition for a second time after their triumph in 2008 - fought back in the second.
A series of spikes and blocks by Zbigniew Bartman and Bartosz Kurek, however, helped the Poles winning 26-24. Kurek then engineered the emphatic 25-20 win in the third set with some spectacular points.
Poland, who won the bronze medal on home soil last year, reached their first final after a hard-fought win over world champions Brazil and victories in straight sets against Cuba and Bulgaria.
Towering 2.05-metre Kurek was voted the tournament's MVP, Bartman, scorer of 16 points in the final, took the tournament's best spiker award while team captain Marcin Mozdzonek got the prize for best blocker.
"It is a historical moment for all of us," said Mozdzonek. "We won against one of the best teams in the world and I hope we will continue playing this way at the Olympics."
The U.S. got some consolation when captain Clayton Stanley, part of the 2008 Olympic team, was named best server. Bulgaria's Todor Alexiev took the best receiver and best scorer awards.
Cuba, a young team made up of home-based players, grabbed third place after beating Bulgaria 25-18 19-25 25-23 23-25 15-12 in a wildly fluctuating encounter, which lasted more than two hours.
Cuba, 1998 winners, took the bronze medal for a third time.
"It was a hard tournament for us as we have five very young players in the team," said Cuba coach Orlando Samuels.
Most of the players who took part in the World League's final tournament are expected to shine at the London Games with the U.S., Poland, Bulgaria, Germany and Brazil qualified for the Olympic tournament.
The 12-team competition in London will start on July 29 with hosts Britain - participating in volleyball at the Olympics for the first time - playing Bulgaria in the opening match. (Editing by Alison Wildey)
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