Osaka, Japan, June 8, 2018 - Nikolay Uchikov's 15 points helped Bulgaria work their way past Japan 3-0 (25-14, 25-21, 29-27) and renew some confidence in the Europeans' camp in their first third-round match at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Friday.
It had been so far rough going for Bulgaria in the VNL but the victory will have lifted their spirits as they only really gave the Japanese a look in right at the death.
A record of 3-4 shows how much work Bulgaria still have to go but with Uchikov on fire at wing spiker, and with fellow hitter Valentin Bratoev (10 points) also finding form, they at least looked to have turned the corner, given Friday's evidence. Their defence was a delight to watch as they out-blocked their opponents 8-3 and they had their deep serves also working a treat.
What gave Japan the most to be positive about was the fact that they had led for the early stages of both the second and third sets, before being overhauled, that they fought to the very end, and that they had 18-year-old opposite Yuji Nishida shining with 10 points. Middle blocker Akihiro Yamauchi (eight many points) also put in a solid shift.
Both nations have arrived at the Osaka Municipal Central Gym looking to pick up some momentum after VNL campaigns that have so far been disappointing.
The bright spark so far for the Japanese - along with now being able to play in front of the their home crowd - was a surprise 3-2 win over South Korea in their last round-two match in Brazil last weekend. Bulgaria, however, probably couldn't wait to get away from home after losing all three of their second-round matches in Sofia. A sprained ankle that has ruled setter Georgi Bratoev out of action for the rest of the tournament would not have helped the mood back home.
But the Europeans certainly started like the shackles had been freed, across a first set that lasted 25 minutes and had the local fans blinking in disbelief.
Things didn't really ever improve for those fans as the Bulgarians stretched their winning streak against Japan in world level events now to five straight matches.
Next up for Bulgaria is Italy (4-3) on Saturday afternoon, while Japan (3-4) will look to find winning form again against Poland (6-1).