Goiania, Brazil, June 1 - Benjamin Patch produced a powerhouse performance as the United States pulled off another escape act to eventually see off Japan in a five set thriller 3-2 (23-25, 13-25, 25-18, 25-20, 15-10).
The Americans found themselves two sets down in their opening match against Argentina last week and after an astonishing opening to this encounter, Japan were in a similar position and smelling a first win over the side ranked no2 in the world since 1993.
But thanks to the power of opposite spiker Patch - 14 spikes, one block - and Thomas Jaeschke - seven spikes - that record remains intact as does their unbeaten start in the VNL.
You couldn’t help but feel for the Japanese who slumped to their second defeat of the tournament but none will be more heartbreaking than this. It was a wonderful start by Japan who stormed ahead thanks to a mix of errors from their opponents and brilliance from skipper Masahiro Yanagida and the excellent Tatsuya Fukuzawa who both ended up with 14 points.
“It takes a team effort to win a game, “ said Patch. “ This was a big moment for us.”
The United States endured a long journey from China to South America for this latest round of VNL matches aiming to extend a 25 year hold over Japan and keep their unbeaten start to the tournament alive.
Three wins from three have put the US in a great position and skipper David Smith was looking to lead his country to four triumphs on the spin at a world level tournament for the first time since 2015.
Japan, with two wins and a defeat, arrived from their first week matches in France knowing with Brazil also on the horizon tomorrow, things aren’t going to get any easier yet with their own captain fantastic Yanagida scoring 31 points last week - Yuji Nishida was the top marksman with an impressive 51 including 45 spikes - they have enough in their locker to trouble any team.
And certainly in the early exchanges, the Americans were left in no doubt this was to be a testing afternoon, - a rally at 2-2 was spellbinding stuff - though a lot of their problems were of their own doing.
Midway through the first with Japan leading 13-10, 10 of their points had come by the way of USA errors.
Nevertheless, it was a lively, energetic contest enjoyed by the Brazilian fans who were making their way into the arena ahead of the hosts’ clash with Korea.
Japan were looking dangerous and when their first set point arrived, Nishida rose brilliantly to hammer down a spike.
There were 14 USA errors in all - a tally which was simply far too high and double what their opponents racked up - while it was the opposite spiker who was top scorer with just four points!
The Americans needed to improve. But with Japan riding the crest of a wave, they were 11-4 up and coasting. Wing spiker Fukuzawa was making his mark and taking advantage of a creaking US defense.
The no 12 team in the world were on fire.
The errors from the second best on the planet, however, were continuing to appear. US coach John Speraw called a time out with the score at 20-9 and discussed with his coaching team the changes needed to kickstart his side into gear.
Something drastic was required because the Japanese onslaught showed no signs of slowing.
Their rearguard was as impressive as their attacking intent - and that came to the fore on set point in the second when Fukuzawa ’s showed brilliant tenacity to keep the ball alive before Yanagida helped seal the deal.
Japan needed to keep their intensity alive if one of the greatest ever wins was to be completed yet as the third set began to take shape, it was clear that the US had finally awoken.
Speraw’s side were nowhere near their best but had managed to creep 16-13 ahead thanks to some excellent work at the net from Taylor Averill while Patch’s fearsome power was beginning to make inroads into the Asian’s lead.
Two set points went begging but Aaron Russell pounced to put the US on the scoreboard and begin to send doubts thundering through Japanese ranks.
Could Yuichi Nakagaichi’s men hold firm? At 9-9 in the fourth, the answer was very much in the balance.
The American errors were creeping back in but Patch was keeping them afloat along with some brilliant work at the net which helped the US establish a two point lead and force a deciding set.
Suddenly the momentum was with the US who were able to stay strong and win another thrilling five set match and leave their opponents, who will at least gain confidence from this as they build towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but saw their charge here fell apart after ending up with 39 errors compared to 29, utterly crestfallen.