(dpa) - Even Ernesto "Che" Guevara came up Sunday in a women's volleyball game between left-leaning allies and friends Cuba and Venezuela.
As expected, Cuba won 3-0 (25-20, 25-20 and 25-19) to finish the tournament's opening round unbeaten. Venezuela were eliminated with five consecutive defeats. But there was a lot more on court than just sport.
"It was a game between countries who are friends," said Cuban-born Venezuela coach Tomas Fernandez.
"Although, as Ernesto Guevara said, 'Friendship ends where duty starts.' And we are representing the Venezuelan people here," Fernandez told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, with reference to the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary hero.
He admitted that the game was hard.
" Cuba is our master, our guide," Fernandez explained.
He was talking about volleyball, although the phrase could have suited socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez when talking about the communist island led for close to half-a-century by Fidel and Raul Castro.
The players have close ties with each other too, since the Venezuelan team - which had never taken part in a Olympic volleyball tournament - prepared itself for Beijing 2008 in Cuba.
"We have spent a lot of time in Cuba, we even know the players' homes. It is the Cuban school of the past 40 years that we stand for, so we had mixed feelings in today's game," Fernandez said.
Beyond volleyball, Venezuela's sports policy is closely linked to that of its ally, and the two countries frequently exchange coaches.
Before 3,500 spectators in Beijing, Venezuela tried to implement a 4-2 system, which Fernandez defined as "typical of Cuba." But that was about as far as the similarities went.
Cuba won an easy game, its fifth consecutive victory in the 2008 Olympics. Gold medallists of Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, and bronze-winners in Athens 2004, they are already thinking of its quarterfinals tie against the loser of the match between Serbia and Russia.
"We came here to win the gold medal," said Cuban coach Antonio Perdomo.
With different expectations, Venezuela leaves Beijing early, but pleased. "It was still a good experience. We learnt a lot," Fernandez noted.
He might as well have added the Che Guevara classic "Until victory, always.