KYOTO – France will look to lock up a trip to the second group finals in Sydney next month when it takes on Japan in the opening match of the fifth round of World League Intercontinental play on Saturday afternoon at Shimadzu Arena.
The French currently top Pool D with a 7-1 record and 20 points. Japan is last with an 0-8 mark and just a single point.
France coach Laurent Tillie has clearly been pleased with his team’s performance this season.
“We have made a good start, but I am surprised we are in first place” he stated. “The team is in good condition now and we would like to clinch the spot in Sydney by taking the first match within four sets on Saturday.”
Japan coach Masashi Nambu, currently in his first year on the job, has tried his best while dealing with injuries, young players and travel challenges.
“It’s good to be playing at home after traveling the first three rounds,” he commented. “The players were exhausted when they got back to Japan. The condition of the team was not good at that time, but the mood has improved.”
Japan will welcome back setter Hideomi Fukatsu this weekend after he missed last week’s series in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture, against Argentina due to injury. However, outside attacker Tatsuya Fukuzawa, who injured his ankle in practice last week before the Argentina matches, will again be unavailable against France.
Despite his team’s position atop the group, Tillie is hoping this weekend’s matches will be competitive.
“The Japan team was very tired after playing away,” he said. ” We hope it will be a different team than we saw in France. Their technique is good, but they have had injury concerns.”
France swept Japan in straight sets in both matches when they met earlier this season in Montpellier.
Nambu knows his squad will be in for a battle again when it takes the court here.
“France is the strongest team in the pool and has a good sideout,” he noted. “They also get strong play from their libero and setter. We are going to try to challenge them with a strong service game.”
Nambu continued to stress that his team is in a learning phase.
“We are trying out young players and concentrating on using them in different situations,” he said.
France, which won its first six matches before splitting with Germany last weekend, features a balanced attack. Kevin Tillie is the top scorer with 83 points this season.
Kunihiro Shimizu is Japan’s leading point getter with 112 points.
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.
The group finals will feature four teams each and will be held July 11-13 in Sydney, Florence, Italy, and Bursa, Turkey.