Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, June 5, 2018 - Meryem Boz inspired Turkey to a crucial victory over Japan to open the fourth phase of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League in style on Tuesday.
The towering 194cm Boz made clutch plays all match to guide Turkey to a 3-1 (25-17, 25-23, 13-25, 25-11) triumph. Turkey overcame a third set aberation to storm home during a dominant fourth stanza to ensure they clinched their seventh victory of the VNL and keep them in firm reckoning for a berth in the final round.
Boz was well supported by the energetic Zehra Gunes and her fellow middle blocker Eda Erdem Dunbar, while Japan was led by star wing spiker Ai Kurogo who produced moments of brilliance.
Turkey's superior size and strength overwhelmed Japan, who tried hard with their trademark vaunted defence but slipped to a worrying 4-6 overall record.
Despite being six places higher on the world rankings, Japan came in as the underdogs having been eight points adrift of Turkey, who sat fifth on the overall rankings at the end of phase three. Adding to this, Turkey have had the wood over Japan in recent years with four victories from the past six clashes at the major world level.
It was an ominous start for Japan with Koyomi Tominaga serving into the net followed by a thunderous spike from Boz to cap off a perfect start for Turkey. There was resolute defending from both teams highlighted by a sensational 35-second rally won in pulsating fashion by Turkey to jump out to a handy 7-2 lead.
Turkey libero Simge Sebnem Akoz showcased her team's determination with a slew of spectacular digs, juxtaposed by the high-flying Boz who was menacing at the net as they skipped out to a decisive 13-4 forcing flustered Japan coach Kumi Nakada to call a timeout in a desperate bid to regroup her ragged side.
A powerful spike by Gunes reinforced Turkey's size advantage as they continued their dominance to maintain a healthy edge despite some brilliance from Haruyo Shimamura, who produced one notable spike down the line and she also menaced on serve.
However, Turkey countered Japan's best attempts at a comeback with Boz punctuating a stellar opening stanza with a brutal kill to wrap up the first set in 24 minutes.
Needing to quickly get back into the contest, a more upbeat Japan started the second set with energy as they rediscovered their famed defensive prowess to win the opening four points. Having perhaps taken their foot off the pedal momentarily, Turkey's firepower resurfaced to overwhelm Japan, while Akoz once again was at her best sprawling spectacularly in defence as the contest tightened.
The contest thrillingly see-sawed with Yuki Ishii's mesmerising spikes countered by the brilliant Boz as the scores were deadlocked numerously during a tense set. Having trailed for much of the stanza, Turkey finally nudged ahead and could sense a stranglehold over the contest with momentum on their side.
Inspired play from Meliha Ismailoglu fuelled Turkey to a 18-15 lead as a despondent Japan were struggling to stay afloat amid the constant barrages from across the net. With Japan's back firmly against the wall, Kurogo lifted her output with a spike and an unreturnable serve to reduce the margin to just two points as the contest tightened once again.
The stanza hit a crescendo when Kanami Tasgiro reached into her bag of tricks to produce an astonishing spike to cap off a lengthy rally but Turkey had all the answers as a forceful Boz again wrapped up the set - a stanza that completely contrasted the one-sided opening.
The high-octane affair continued during the third set as points were traded by two gallant teams until Japan got on a roll to gain a four-point lead capped off by a mega rally highlighted by astounding spectacular athleticism by libero Kotoe Inoue. Japan's blockers were resolute as they continued to repel Turkey's high-voltage game as the match appeared to be heading into a fourth set.
Not just dictating through defence, Japan showcased their offensive skills with a leaping Kurogo hammering home a kill and they soon stretched out to a commanding 19-11 advantage. A rampant Japan blew past a stunned Turkey to ensure the match would prolong much to the delight of a sparse crowd who were eagerly anticipating their beloved Thailand later in the evening.
After such a lacklustre letdown, Turkey settled in the fourth set and raced to an 11-4 lead through sheer tenacity - taking a page out of Japan's renowned defensive skills. Japan tried valiantly to launch a brave rearguard testament to Mai Okumara's spiralling over the advertising boards as she gamely defended but to no avail as the lopsided affair continued with Turkey finally claiming the victory to end a two-game slide after heartbreaking five-set defeats to Russia and Serbia.
Turkey play hosts Thailand on Wednesday, while Japan battle Korea.