Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, June 6, 2018 - A masterclass from Yuki Ishii has fuelled a rejuvenated Japan to a convincing 3-0 (25-22, 25-14, 25-20) victory over a disappointing Korea in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Wednesday.
The star wing spiker was the standout performer with a game-high 15 points and she was ably supported by Ai Kurogo, while middle blocker Mai Okumura's formidable defence was indicative of her hardnosed team, who ended a three-match skid.
Conversely, a misfiring Korea appeared out of rhythm all match as underlined by captain Kim Yeon Koung, who struggled to have an impact, and the team had to rely on the brilliance of Jaeyeong Lee for respectability.
It was Japan's first victory of the fourth phase after rebounding from a tough loss to Turkey on Tuesday and moved them to an overall record of 5-6 - the same ratio as Korea who have lost five of their past six games.
Japan, playing more like their lofty world ranking of number six, once again dominated their Asian foes and have now won 21 of the past 22 clashes at the major world level.
The lopsided result was surprising as the teams were similarly ranked on the table and desperate for victory to keep in touch with those contending for the final round.
Korea made the perfect start with in-form Jin Yang Hyo immediately making her presence felt at the net but Japan soon countered through the strong serving of Ishii. Both defensive-minded teams were playing cautiously in the early going but Jin Yang and Kim were proving hard to pass at the net and the rapid jump-serving from Heejin Kim helped Korea enjoy the early edge.
However, Japan turned things around with six straight points forcing rattled Korea coach Kim Jieun to call a timeout with his ragged side down by three points. Korea looked out of sync in the early going and struggled to find their range as Japan capitalised on their sloppy opponents to maintain a healthy edge.
An unsettled Korea were in disarray testament to Kim attempting a high poke over the net only to miscue into the fittings well above.
Even though their opponents were gifting points, Japan made few mistakes and - after overcoming jitters and a late Korea fightback led by the energetic Jaeyeong - they eventually closed it out in 27 minutes.
Japan's defensive prowess helped them continue the momentum into the second set with Okumura proving formidable at the net. Their play was marked by stellar serving targeting Kim, who was struggling receiving through error of judgements. Like the first set, Kim had to be substituted in a psychological advantage for the increasingly confident Japan, who skipped out to an 8-2 lead at the first technical timeout.
Ishii, Japan's leading scorer in the VNL, showcased moments of brilliance through skilful deft touches to underline Japan's dominance as Risa Shinnabe joined in with several imposing spikes. Korea's play was a mishmash and marked by constant miscommunication as they struggled to play with any flow.
Playing a lone hand, Jaeyeong tried her hardest to inspire a fightback but it was hardly enough as Japan steamrolled through the second set to gain a stranglehold on the contest. Much like the previous sets, Japan was able to muster a stretch of dominance over the hapless Korea but Kim finally shrugged off a lacklustre performance and lifted her output as the match tightened.
However, Japan had all the answers as Korea started to wilt amid the realisation a devastating defeat was imminent.
Japan coach Kumi Nakada was delighted with her team's dominant performance. "After a frustrating loss yesterday, our players tried very hard against a good team in Korea and were impressive from the beginning," she said after the match.
Japan will be looking to continue the momentum against hosts Thailand on Thursday, while Korea faces formidable Turkey.