U.S., Japan square off in FIVB World League

by Jeremy Walker

KUMAMOTO — United States head coach Hugh McCutcheon is expecting two tough matches against Japan in the World League this weekend, despite his team’s recent superiority.

News photoShunichi Shimano spikes the ball against France’s Bojidar Slavev (2) and Romain Vadeleux in last
weekend’s FIVB World League Pool B intercontinental competition in Strasbourg, France. Japan was defeated
in both matches, 3-0 on Saturday and 3-2 the next day.
FIVB PHOTO

The Americans have won all six World League matches between the two teams in 2006 and 2007, including two this season in Green Bay, Wis., on June 1-2.

Those two victories have helped take the United States to the top of Pool B with a 6-2 win-loss record, followed by France (5-3), Italy (2-4) and Japan (1-5) — and only the group winner is guaranteed a place in the final round in Poland next month.

McCutcheon, however, does not want to start putting pressure on his players by talking about the finals.

“For these matches we want to continue the momentum that we have been building over the first eight matches of this competition,” the New Zealander said at the official FIVB press conference at Kumamoto Prefectural Gymnasium on Friday. “We hope to keep working on solidifying our team and keep this good work toward our zone championships and Olympic qualification at the end of the year.”

The teams meet at 2 p.m. on Saturday, followed by a rematch at the same time on Sunday.

The United States, ranked eighth in the world, two places higher than Japan, will compete in the NORCECA zone continental championship in September, needing a top-two finish to qualify for the 12-team World Cup in Japan in November.

The World Cup marks the start of Olympic qualifying, with the top three teams in the elite field booking a ticket direct to Beijing, without the need for regional qualifying.

McCutcheon expects Japan to provide tough opposition this weekend, as the home team, coached by Tatsuya Ueta, seeks revenge for a pair of 3-1 defeats in Green Bay earlier this month.

“Japan has been making steady improvement ever since Mr. Ueta has taken over as the coach, and the team that we played in Green Bay fought very hard and played some good volleyball at times. We were fortunate to win the matches,” said McCutcheon.

The U.S. head coach picked out Japanese wing spikers Yu Koshikawa and Yusuke “Gottsu” Ishijima as the two players to watch.

“We have a lot of respect for the Japanese team. They work hard, they fight every play and they have a couple of nice players in the outside hitting position, Koshikawa and Mr. Gottsu Ishijima,” he added.

“Japan is good. We expect a difficult match.”

Ueta described the U.S. team as “almost perfect,” with many experienced and strong players.

“But we are at home and we will try to produce our best performance,” he said.