Ludwigsburg, Germany, June 17, 2018 – Again it was Japan who emerged victorious from a five set thriller as Masahiro Yanagida produced a masterful performance through two positions to ensure his side move on to 15 points in the table following their 3-2 win (26-24, 12-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-11). After the third set it appeared that Japan were struggling to fill the void left by the missing Yuji Nishida (their current top scorer on 162 points who is in 3rd position of the competition charts), but after switching their captain Masahiro Yanagida to that role they found the right mix to take a big win.
Japan's Coach Yuichi Nakagaichi is something of a mystical character but he could not hold back the joy as his side took their fourth five set win in the Volleyball Nations League. The third time that they have won four tie break matches at a single major world level tournament, alongside the 1966 World Championships and the 1993 World League.
Upon the final whistle it was Yanagida and Tatsuya Fukuzawa who jointly top scored with 16 points each, while just behind were Issei Otake and Haku Ri on 12. While the whole team will also pay tribute to their Libero Taichiro Koga who produced a number of crucial saves to keep them in it.
Argentina last suffered at least 10 defeats in a competition at the 2013 World League (then 11) so it is worrying signs for them. Again the point scoring was spread with five players reaching double figures today (after four did it yesterday). Cristian Poglajen top scored with 20 points, but he will look back at some moments of inconsistency and things not going as he would have wished at crucial moments. Martin Ramos also put in a solid performance with 18 points.
The last time Japan beat Argentina was eleven years ago, at the 2007 World Cup losing the last seven so they were due a win and it is Argentina won lead the head to head on seven. However looking at the form book Japan would have been slight favourites as they were up in 10th with W5-L6, while Argentina were down in 14th having only one two matches. For the final round of matches, Japan head to China while Argentina head down under to Melbourne.
The first set bounced both ways (11-9 to Argentina, followed by 20-18 to Japan) before it was all square at 20-20. Japan made the first move opening up a two point gap but Julio Velasco’s side drew level again. Facundo Conte was on and making an immediate impact but a net touch by Poglajen gave Japan a chance and it was one that they took with Yanagida proving too good for Tomas Lopez in defence.
The second set was a more one-sided affair with Argentina leading by four at the first technical. Clearly finding another gear, Japan were forced to call another timeout at 11-7 but in only resulted in Argentina racking up more points to 15-7.
Here we saw the unique situation of the referee overruling the Challenge System, as the footage showed a net touch but the officials adjusted the ball to have hit the floor before the Argentina blocker hit the net.
Stuck on only seven points the Japan coaching staff encouraged their team to take risks, but it was Cristian Poglajen who seemed to best follow this advice for Argentina with a pipe attack winner that registered 112 kmph. The set ended 25-12 after a truly commendable 25 minutes from the South American side.
Back to a tense affair in the third set (6-6, 11-11) and it was the blocking from Argentina that took them to a 16-14 lead – they were already on 10 blocks compared to only two from Japan. Those same couple of points transferred through to 21-19 when Japans captain Masahiro Yanagida took matters into his own hands with an attack kill through four followed moments later by the same through two. Point by point though Argentina stayed level and Martin Ramos set up set point for Argentina only for Issei Otake to blast one into the LED boardings and gift the set.
Issei Otake did not return and Hiroaki Asano was on in his place while their captain moved into the slot opposite their setter. Maximiliano Cavanna continued his near perfect game distributing the ball well but the second half of the set was all about Japan, and in particular the athleticism Asano and the drive of Yanagida. At 22-20 they appeared to be in control and other than the odd error levelled the match by taking the set 25-23.
Into the decider and there was an early advantage to Argentina (3-1), but back came Japan again to lead 5-4 through the oldest player in their team, Tatsuya Fukuzawa. It was 8-6 to the Asian side at the change of ends but there was only one team on the up as they soon went four clear.
Somewhat ironically Agustín Loser was serving for Argentina 12-14 down when Japan created an attack and the ball hit the floor to cue hysteria on the red side of the net.