Goiania, Brazil, June 3, 2018 - Tatsuya Fukuzawa broke Korean hearts to help Japan seal a dramatic comeback triumph and win a brilliant Asian derby 3-2 (27-29, 25-19, 16-25, 28-26, 15-12).
Fukuzawa was the hero with 19 points - six crucially came in the fifth set - while Haku Ri weighed in with five aces. Yuji Nishida (16 points) and Issei Otake with nine points from the bench also contributed.
Korea came into the match as the only side in the VNL without a set to their name and although they destroyed that statistic, the manner of this crushing defeat will be difficult to take as they slumped to their fifth defeat in a row to the Japanese.
They had heroes all over the court although Sung-Min Moon’s 22 spikes was the standout performance while Jiseok Jung (15 spikes, two aces) and Kwang-In Jeon (15 spikes, one block and two aces) also impressed yet this defeat failed to move the Koreans off the bottom of the VNL table.
Korea may be the lowest ranked side in the tournament without a win so far but they have been boosted by some spirited performances over the weekend which in many ways belied their lowly status in the volleyball world.
Japan have not lost a set to their Asian rivals in their past four meetings - both sides came into this clash looking for a first win in Goiania following testing encounters against Brazil and the USA - though were set for a rude awakening at the start of this rollercoaster encounter.
With Moon spiking powerfully and Kwang's all round game causing problems , Kim Hochul’s side were always in the match even if the Japanese moved 22-20 ahead in a razor-tight first set.
There was, however, much more drama to follow. The lead continued to change hands but at 27-26, Korea thought their first ever VNL set was in the bag only for Akihiro Yamauchi to produce a wonderful block to keep his side in it.
The Koreans couldn’t be denied and when a scorching Jung smash was unable to be saved, they were finally on the board. Cue wild celebrations.
And why not?
Japan needed to get key man Yuji Nishida into game and it was the opposite spiker’s influence which helped bring Yuichi Nakagaichi’s side level.
Fukuzawa also came to the party and although Korea had managed to pull back to 19-14, the momentum shift was firmly with the Japanese and when Akihiro Yamauchi brilliantly blocked at the net , the set was sealed and the clash placed firmly in the balance.
Japan, who were two sets up against the US on Friday before falling in five, had the bit between their teeth but you just couldn’t keep Korea down.
Their defensive game was on point - Kim in particular was fantastically resolute - and 19-13 soon became 24-16 with Moon providing the finishing touches to put Korea on the brink of their first win at this tournament.
The fourth was once again too close to call.
Otake was called on from the sidelines and the opposite spiker made an instant impact - five points helped the scores to get to 21-21 - but a crucial block from Lee Min-Gyu helped keep Korea alive.
The error count between the two pushed past 50 - Japan’s Takahashi smacked a serve into the net at set point before another Moon spike saved a second - though when Korea had their first match point at the end of a typically fiercely contested rally, Otake was on hand to keep out the opposition and provide the platform which sent this rollercoaster affair into decider.
Smart play by Kyumin Kim helped Korea edge 7-5 ahead but a fearsome final set display from Fukuzawa and Otake proved too much for the Koreans who gave so much to a memorable match.
Japan now return home for week three action against high-flying Poland, Bulgaria and Italy while Korea travel to Provence to take on Argentina, France and Serbia.