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Japan spikers striving for better results at home

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

After a tough stretch on the road, Japan will aim for its first victory when it takes on Argentina in a pair of matches in FIVB World League Pool D action at Komaki Park Arena starting on Saturday.

Japan (0-6) was swept by Germany, France and the South Americans the past three weeks.

Japan coach Masashi Nambu, in his first season on the job, admitted that he and his squad were happy to be back home after a long journey.

“After three weeks away it feels good to be back home,” Nambu said on Friday at a press conference. “Everybody is happy. We hope to play better this weekend.”

Argentina (3-3) is currently in second place in Pool D behind leader France (6-0) with 11 points, while Japan is last with just one point.

“We played Japan last weekend in Argentina,” said coach Julio Velasco. “They were some good, interesting games. I’m sure they will play better here. They have played outside the country for three weeks, which is tough.”

Velasco, who took over as Argentina coach in late April after leading Iran to two Asian championships (2011, 2013), says he is using the World League as an opportunity to look over his new charges.

“This is my first year with Argentina, so I am testing and using different players now,” stated Velasco. “The philosophy of a coach must be very pragmatic. Each team has to find a balance between the different aspects of the game. This is what we are looking at now. This is the best way to do it, rather than using the same system with different teams.”

Velasco said he enjoyed his time in Iran, but that the pull of his native country brought him back home.

“I was very happy to work in Iran these past years,” he commented. “I am very happy the Iran team continues to win. Argentina is a special country. It is my country and I have lived outside it for 31 years. I made the move more for emotional reasons than professional reasons.”

Nambu acknowledged that he is going through a learning process the first time around.

“As the new coach of Japan I feel I am gaining experience with each match,” he noted. “I can see our improvement step-by-step.”

Nambu believes some of his side’s troubles so far have been self-inflicted.

“Toward the end of matches we have made a lot of unforced errors,” he said. “I think that is due to lack of experience. We will fight here with all of our might.”

Japan suffered a blow during training on Friday when outside spiker Tatsuya Fukuzawa injured his ankle. He has been ruled out of this weekend’s matches.

Nambu also said that he will use Shinji Takahashi at setter, after Hideomi Fukatsu was hurt against Argentina last weekend.

Argentina will be without the services of Pablo Bengolea, who was injured during the victories over Japan.

Facundo Conte led Argentina’s sweep over Japan with 36 points in the two matches last weekend.

Kunihiro Shimizu is the second-highest scorer (87 points) in the group at the halfway mark.

The 25th FIVB World League features 28 teams split into seven pools of four that compete in a six-round, 12-match format.

Russia is the defending World League champion, while Brazil was the runnerup last season.