Japan’s men came from a set down to defeat Puerto Rico on Saturday in the FIVB Men’s Olympic volleyball tournament at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
After dropping the first set, the hosts roared back and became more dominant as the game wore on in a 22-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-16 victory left them equal on 11 points with Asian rivals Iran and China. The top two teams in the eight-team field will earn spots in the London Games, as will the next best Asian team.
Japan finishes its qualifying campaign on Sunday against Iran, which is in third place behind Serbia and Australia, and ahead of Japan on points ratio. China is fifth, trailing Japan on sets ratio.
“We didn’t come out very well at the start, but we got over that,” said Japan ace Tatsuya Fukuzawa, who began exploiting Puerto Rico’s mistakes in the second set.
Fukuzawa hammered down 15 points, second best on the team to Kunihiro Shimizu’s 16.
With three Asian teams in the running for a maximum of two spots — Serbia has already clinched its spot in London — Japan may need to defeat Iran by four sets or fewer in order to gain a maximum of three points.
“We had each other’s backs,” Shimizu said. “The only thing we can do now is to keep going at full power right to the end.”
To make the grade, coach Tatsuya Ueta’s team will need to be sharper at the start than they have been in their past two games.
“We began tight,” the coach said. “But the players hung in there and we got the three points with (captain Daisuke) Usami at the center of our attack.”
After the match Puerto Rico captain Jose Rivera said, “I think we probably played our best match of the tournament so far today. We entered the court with more a lot more energy and we were able to win the first set. Overall, Japan is a better team than us right now. We had many problems with reception and sideout volleyball. They played better than us and deserved to win.”
Earlier, Serbia pounded out a 30-28, 30-28, 25-22 victory over Iran, winning its sixth in a row and securing first place with 18 points with one match remaining.
Iran slipped to 4-2 and remained on 11 points. China prevailed 25-18, 28-26, 19-25, 25-21 over Venezuela to improve to 3-3 with 11 points for its effort.
Cuba beats Japan
Japan’s women fell in four sets to Cuba to suffer their second straight defeat at the World Grand Prix on Saturday.
Japan, missing a number of key players for the second straight match, got off to a shaky start, losing the first set 25-20 before rebounding 25-20 in the second.
Cuba, which won its second straight match to improve to five points in Pool C action, won the next two sets 25-18, 25-20 at Sajik Indoor Gymnasium.
Ai Otomo, back from an injury to her right knee, had a team-high 16 points for Japan, which will face South Korea on Sunday. Turkey downed South Korea 25-18, 22-25, 25-21, 25-14 to improve to 2-0 with six points.