Strong blocking carries Brazil past Japan in FIVB Women’s World Grand Prix finals

FIVB, KYODO

Japan failed to capitalize on its opportunities, falling in three sets to 2012 Olympic volleyball champion Brazil on Thursday at the FIVB Women’s World Grand Prix finals.

Japan, which won Olympic bronze last summer in London, was unable to hold on to late leads in each of the first two sets in a 25-21, 25-22, 25-17 defeat as Brazil remained unbeaten at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.

“We had our moments in the first set and in the second, but our service game was not up to the task and once we got past 20 points, the Brazilians really showed their strength,” Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe said.

“We made some mistakes in our spikes. If we can’t correct them, we aren’t going to win.”

On Friday, Japan will take on Serbia, which improved to 1-1 with a 25-23, 20-25, 25-18, 25-23 victory over the winless United States. In Thursday’s other match, unbeaten China needed five sets to defeat Italy (28-30, 25-22, 26-28, 25-13, 15-10).

Brazil improved to 2-0 while Japan fell to 1-1.

“It was not an easy game,” Brazil coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes said. “Japan have good technique and concentration and a good variety of combinations. They are good at seeking out our weak points and attacking them, so it was hard to win today.”

Brazil had 15 blocking points to Japan’s seven, but Japan dominated serving 7-1.

Gabriela Guimaraes was Brazil’s top scorer with 19 points, Fernanda Rodrigues had 15 and Thaisa Menezes 14.

Yukiko Ebata led Japan with 11 points and Saori Kimura scored 10.

In the first game, Japan got off to a slow start and fell behind 4-1 on a block by Guimaraes and a spike by the same player. Risa Shinnabe then breathed life into the Japan attack with a strong kill and a service ace while captain Kimura also delivered two valuable points with a kill and a perfectly placed soft shot. A block by Nana Iwasaka on young Brazilian star Guimaraes put Japan a point ahead at the first technical timeout and it moved three points ahead at 14-11, when Brazil coach Ze Roberto called a timeout.

Japan maintained its advantage to the second TTO but the scores were level at 20-20 when Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe used his first timeout. Neither side was dominating, but Brazil looked the stronger team, especially after it brought in Sheilla Castro. But it was the big-hitting Guimaraes who did the damage with successive smashes that put Brazil two points up at 23-21. A missed shot by Ebata gave Brazil set point and a Rodrigues kill put Brazil ahead 1-0.

In Game 2, two clever shots and a block by Riho Otake gave Japan the advantage at the start and a fake set by setter Haruka Miyashita put Japan five points in front at 10-5. When a Miyashita service ace stretched the lead to 12-6, Brazil called a timeout. Brazil won eight of the next 10 points and drew level at 14-14 after another blow from Guimaraes, prompting a Japanese timeout. At 16-16, an excellent block by Miyashita on Guimaraes and a hefty spike from Ebata prompted a Brazil timeout but the teams were level again at 18. Two Japan errors at 21-21 handed the advantage to Brazil and Thaisa Menezes earned setpoint with a big hit down the middle. A mixup on the Japan side of the net put Brazil in front 2-0.

Japan led 10-9 in the third game, but Brazil was stronger down the stretch. Successive blocks by Menezes and Rodrigues brought set point at 24-17 and Menezes sent a shot down the middle to finish the match.

“After we got to about 20 points, we lost our rhythm and then the sets,” Kimura said, “Also, they didn’t make hardly any errors. They were very confident. We’re trying to build a new team and will try to catch up with Brazil.”