Walbrzych, Poland, June 13, 2018 – It was all smiles in the end for Japan who started well but left it late to beat the Dominican Republic in a tense fifth set 3-2 (25-15, 14-25, 21-25, 29-27, 15-13). Japan are an all round team, but today Sarina Koga stepped up to be the shining light in attack, complimenting their impressive defensive display. With that win, Japan avoided becoming the first nation to lose 300 matches at world level, and move ahead one more in wins to 328.
With setter Koyomi Tominaga controlling proceedings her attackers shone for large spells and when it mattered. Demonstrated by each one of her attacking players reaching double figures: Mai Okumura (10), Mami Uchiseto (10), Risa Shinnabe (14) and Nana Iwasaka (15). But top of the pile was Koga with 24 attacks from 66 attempts – many of these as the sets drew to a close.
Coach Kumi Nakada will be really happy with how this match panned out, especially after yesterdays disappointing loss against the home side. This win also brings her side up to W7-L7 matches in the 2018 VNL.
Coach Marcos Kwiek will have expected his team to have got the job done in the fourth set, but it was not to be. They will take pride from their performance, actually finishing with one more point in total than the eventual winners (105-104) after 2 and a half hours of action. Yonkaira Paola Peña Isabel was their top scorer taking 28 points across all aspects of the game and regularly achieving spikes of over 100 kmph. The “Queens of the Caribbean” have now lost their last seven matches, with their last five being in straight sets.
With Japan in 10th place (W6-L7) before the match and the Dominican Republic down in 14th position (W2-L11), both were already out of contention of reaching the Finals so this was all about pride. The Dominican Republic have won only three of their previous 18 major world level encounters with Japan, but one of those wins came in their most recent meeting in last year's FIVB World Grand Prix.
With Japan leading 6-4, we were treated to an early mega rally that lasted a massive 39 seconds, finished in the end by Koga. Winning that rally seemed to build the confidence even further as the Asian side extended their lead to 14-9 and within only a few minutes they had carved out 9 set points. Showing incredible persistence they took the first one of those and with it a 1-0 lead.
With both teams coming out for the second set seeming to act as if it was the first again, it was tense and close – demonstrated at 4-4 when there was a challenge that showed just a hairlines width of the ball touching the line. That point went to Japan, but it was the Dominican Republic who found the next gear first moving to a 12-7 lead before finishing the set to only 14 points – totally worthy of their set win after outperforming their counterparts in all areas: spikes 18-9, blocks 4-1, serves 1-0.
In the crucial third it was Peña Isabel who was the stand out player so it was fitting she was serving when her side emerged with a lead and set point at 24-21. After excellent blocking throughout from Annerys Victoria Vargas Valdez and Gaila Ceneida Gonzalez Lopez, they came together to secure the set and a 2-1 lead.
With the main statistics between the teams pretty much identical in the 3rd set, the fourth was going to be close. Niverka Dharlenis Marte Frica was consistently able to find her bigger hitters and so her team managed to establish multiple leads. However, with Sarina Koga coming back into it Japan fought back again, as they usually do and in the end the composure of their staff seemed to rub off on the team as they proved superior. Somehow the Asian Champions were able to grind out a 29-27 set win to force the tie-break – despite the team in blue having a had a match point.
Into the decider and it was very much a side-out game. Japan have won eight of their last 10 five set matches at world level, although they did lose 3-2 against Poland on the day before. Just after the change of ends it was Japan who established a two point advantage and they held it until the final blow of the referees whistle.
In the final day tomorrow at Hala Widowiskovo-Sportowa the Dominican Republic will face hosts Poland while Japan take on Russia.