SAPPORO – The China volleyball team had to fight hard to maintain its unbeaten record in the FIVB Women’s World Grand Prix Finals on Saturday as Japan fought it all the way.
China won 3-2 (25-16, 18-25, 26-24, 21-25, 15-13) at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center and now faces a showdown with Brazil on Sunday for the title.
China is 4-0 and have 10 points, while Brazil has 12 points from a similar record. Serbia is third on six points and Japan fourth on four points. Italy is fifth with three points and USA bottom with one point.
It was China’s 19th win over Japan in the World Grand Prix in 20 meetings. China set a team record for consecutive wins in the World Grand Prix at 13.
“We prepared for a game like this,” China coach Lang Ping said. “Japan is a great team, is very well organized, fast and have great ball control. They have many good things that we don’t have. I think we were looking forward to this game. I told my players Japan are a great team and it’s their home court and there will be a lot of noise.
“I said, ‘You must concentrate on the game.’ I want to learn from this game. We need to learn many things from Japan. It was a great performance from all the fans and I want to thank the fans for cheering all the athletes.”
Looking ahead to the final against Brazil, Lang said, “I don’t think we even have 24 hours to prepare. It’s a very, very short time. Before this game, I haven’t thought about the last match. We’ll play our best to try and learn from the game. Brazil have more experience and I think they deserve to be ranked No. 1 in the world.”
Yukiko Ebata was the top scorer in the match with 36 points and teammate Saori Kimura had 26 points. The top scorer for China was Zhu Ting with 33, followed by Hui Ruoqi with 15 and Xu Yunli with 14..
Japan had the advantage in blocking points (10-9) and in service points (8-7). Japan made 23 errors to China’s 15.
“Today, we played a full-sets match but lost,” Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe said. “We had fewer mistakes and better defense than before, but we lost and we need to think about being stronger. China have tall and young players and their technique is great. Tomorrow, we play the USA, who have a high block, but we want to end the World Grand Prix with a win.”
Japan looked shaky at the start of the match, committing two errors and failing to deal with a serve by Shen Jingsi that put China ahead 8-3. The hosts also struggled to deal with Chinese phenom Zhu Ting, who started banging down powerful shots and was soon joined by her teammates, especially Xu. Ebata responded with a couple of clever shots, but China extended its lead to five points at the second technical timeout and it was largely one-way traffic from there on. A slam from the center by Xu brought set point, and Japan captain Kimura fluffed a service reception from her Chinese counterpart Hui to put China 1-0 up. Zhu scored 10 points in the set.
Japan bounced back with a strong Game 2 effort, and started to rediscover its defensive skills, which deserted the team during Friday’s loss to Serbia. Kimura continued to play crafty volleyball and China was suddenly under pressure. Japan took a five-point lead at the second TTO after a good block by Nana Iwasaka on Yang Junjing. Ebata produced two spikes and a superbly placed soft shot as Japan moved into a 20-14 lead, at which point China coach Lang Ping called a timeout. It didn’t stop Japan. Ebata brought up set point with another good spike and China then failed to deal with a serve by Kimura, evening the match at 1-1.
The match remained tight at the start of the third set and the two teams were even through 7-7. Moments later, China failed to get a point overturned, Kimura hit a thunderbolt kill and Haruka Miyashita served an ace to pull Japan level at 22-22. At 23-22 to China, successive blasts by Kimura and Ebata brought set point for Japan. But Zhu evened the scores, Yang Junjing took advantage of poor Japan defending and a long shot by Ebata put China 2-1 up.
The intensity continued in the fourth set as the two sides swapped early leads. After the first TTO, with China leading by a point, Ebata and Zhu had a mini-battle, which Ebata won 6-3, but China led by two at the second break. A classy tipover by Risa Shinnabe drew the teams level at 17-17 and Japan moved into a 20-18 lead on the back of a rocket by Kimura and a well-placed shot by Ebata, after which Lang Ping called a timeout.
China then went to pieces and Japan led 23-18. An Ebata missile brought up set point at 24-19 but then Japan got nervous and Manabe had to call a timeout at 24-21. Ebata then hit a spike off the Chinese block to force a fifth game.
The deciding game was even at 8-8 when Japan made its third service error of the set and Ebata missed the target. A block by Xu on Shinnabe put China in the driver’s seat — 12-9 at that point — and a long shot by Ebata made it 13-9. Big hits from Kimura and Ebata kept Japan alive before a well-judged tipover from Hui brought match point at 14-11. Ebata saved two more match points but then was blocked and it was all over.
In Saturday’s other showdowns, London Olympic champion Brazil took a big step toward winning the tournament with a 27-25, 25-21, 25-22 victory over Serbia. Italy took down the United States in five sets, 19-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-18, 16-14.