Japan coach Shoichi Yanagimoto said his national team charges are peaking at the perfect time as the Women’s Volleyball World Cup got under way on Friday.
The host nation, ranked seventh in the world, beat the Dominican Republic at Tokyo’ Metropolitan Gymnasium 25-23, 25-18, 25-20 in their opening match of the Nov. 2-16 tournament.
“I think our team condition is getting better and better, day by day. I became head coach in 2003 and I have tried using a variety of players, especially in the last two years, to play different styles of volleyball,” said Yanagimoto.
“I feel that my trials are starting to bear fruit now, because we were able to win the Asian Championship. This has also given my players more confidence.
“We will face tough matches continuously in the World Cup but I believe the strong and well-balanced teams will survive.”
Twelve teams are competing in the round robin competition, with the top three qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The Men’s World Cup runs from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2 and will use the same format.
In other opening games, Friday in Hamamatsu, world silver medalist Brazil beat Poland 25-12, 25-20, 25-22, four-time World Cup winner Cuba downed Kenya 25-11, 25-18, 25-20 and United States overcame Peru 25-23, 25-14, 25-19.
In Tokyo, world bronze medalist Serbia beat South Korea 25-21, 25-23, 25-15 and European champion Italy downed Thailand 25-14, 25-14, 25-16.
“Every team at this World Cup is a good team. Every match will be tough and important in this league,” said Yanagimoto.
The Japan coach has set an ambitious target of eight wins from 11 games for the host team in the tournament.
“The target is to win a medal — bronze, silver or gold I don’t care. For this, eight wins is the bottom line, but hopefully we can go above that,” said Yanagimoto.
“I think the level of the team now is the same as for the Olympic qualifying tournament in 2004, and we want to qualify for the next Olympics at the World Cup.”
Yanagimoto’s team has plenty of Olympic experience, with seven of the squad members playing in Athens three years ago, while Asako Tajimi also represented Japan at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.
“We have prepared and tried to put special focus on defense because that is always one of the main themes for the team.”
There are also some fresh faces, none more so than Yuki Kawai, a 17-year-old high school student who is backup setter to captain Yoshie Takeshita.
“She has very good handling skills,” Yanagimoto, a former national team setter himself, said of Kawai.
Japan’s world ranking of seventh puts it behind only Brazil (third), Italy (fourth) and Cuba (fifth) in the World Cup field, as Russia (first), China (second) and the Netherlands (sixth) are not competing.
In the men’s event, the Brazilians, who won the world championships in 2002 and 2006, are overwhelming favorites.
The Brazilians also won the World Cup in 2005 and gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The Brazilians will face host Japan, the United States, South Korea, European champion Spain, runnerup Russia, Asian champion Australia, Bulgaria, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Egypt and Tunisia.