Italy downed Japan in straight sets (25-16, 25-21, 25-21) at the FIVB Men’s Grand Champions Cup on Saturday.
The result gives Italy a 2-2 mark, while Japan remains winless at 0-4 heading into the final day of the volleyball competition at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
The match marked the third-ever meeting in the World Grand Champions Cup between the nations and 31st overall. Japan entered with a 23-7 advantage in the series.
Ivan Zaytsev was the top scorer for Italy with 13 points. Filippo Lanza and Jiri Kovar chipped in with 11 each.
Yu Koshikawa had eight points for Japan in the loss.
Italy excelled in all facets of the game in an impressive performance. Thei Italian defense was especially outstanding in the triumph.
“I’m very happy,” Italy coach Mauro Berruyo said. “Our goal was to focus on the present and control what was in our hands. We had good sideout and reception. The level of volleyball in this tournament is very high.
“I’m proud of our young guys. We will fight to the last match for a medal.”
Japan appeared flat from the outset and could never muster much of a threat against the Italian attack.
“We played hard,” Japan coach Gary Sato said. “I thought we could have played smarter.
“When you play at this level, the margin for mistakes is small and adds up in a hurry. But this has been a good experience for us being exposed to the top four teams in the world.
“Tomorrow is our last chance against Iran. They are in our zone and could present a potential roadblock to getting to the Olympics. We have our work cut out for ourselves.”
Italy took a 5-4 lead in the first set. Zaytsev soared for a spike to put Italy up 6-5. Koshikawa fired a serve long and Italy led 8-6 at the first TTO. Shogo Toimoto’s spike pulled Japan within a point at 9-8. Italy moved ahead 14-9 and Japan called a timeout.
Japan prevailed in a long rally but still trailed 15-11. Italy was up 16-12 at the second TTO. A block by Italy made it 19-14.
It was 20-15 after a dink by Kunihiro Shimizu. Filippo Lanza’s soft return gave Italy set point at 24-15. Japan struggled with receiving during the set as Italy passed well on the counterattack. Lanza gave Italy the set at 25-16 with a spike. Zaytsev and Lanza had five points each in the set.
“I’m very happy for the victory, Italy captain Emanuele Birarelli said later. “The key was good sideout and consistently good blocks.
“I hope we can play well against Brazil tomorrow as they are the best team in the world.”
Jiri Kovar’s block put Italy in front 5-3 in the second set and Japan called a timeout. A spike by Kazuyoshi Yokota made it 7-5. Japan had trouble dealing with Italy’s frontline blocking. Moments later, Italy fired a spike wide and the score was 14-10. A Lanza spike made it 15-10. Italy remained in control, moving ahead 20-15.
A huge spike by Kovar made it 21-15. A Yokota spike pulled Japan within five at 22-17. Zaytsev uncorked another attack and put Italy two points from the set at 23-17. Koshikawa sent a serve long and Italy had set point at 24-18. After Japan scored three straight to make it 24-21, Italy called a timeout. Kovar ended the set 25-21 with a spike.
“We were beaten by their height and service. Our blocks were not organized,” Japan’s Shigeru Kondo said. “Their balls came through our defense and we lost our rhythm.”
An outstanding block by Thomas Beretta put Italy up 5-3 in the third set. Fukuzawa whiffed on an attempted return and it was 7-3. Ishijima fired a spike long and it was 8-3 Italy at the first TTO. At this point in the match Italy had 10 blocks and Japan had none.
Afer the second TTO. Beretta’s spike gave Italy a six-point lead at 18-12 and there appeared little doubt about the outcome. A service ace by Shimizu pulled Japan within three at 18-15.
But Lanza responded with a spike for 19-15. Koshikawa blocked a Zaytsev spike and it was 19-17. Fukuzawa served into the net, increasing the Italians’ advantage to 20-17.
Kovar spiked for 22-19 and Italy had the summit in sight. Japan took a final timeout at 23-20. Shimizu sent a spike wide and it was match point for Italy at 24-21.
Kovar ended the affair 25-21 with a flying shot.
Toimoto said, “Our blocks did not function well throughout the match. Because of this there was lots of pressure on the players in the back.
“We played their game and their strategy.”
“Italy is known for its powerful service. We need to have better reception,” said Tatsuya Fukuzawa. “Our attack was simple and they could block us. We ended up in their strategy.
“I should have taken more risks on attack.”
In other games, Iran scored a dramatic five-set victory over the United States 28-26, 19-25, 19-25, 27-25, 18-16. Russia denied Brazil a chance to clinch the gold medal with a 20-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-17, 15-9 win, leaving both teams with 3-1 records after a rematch of the London Olympic final, also won by the Russians.