Japan remained unbeaten and in first place with a straight-sets (26-24, 25-16, 25-15) victory over Belgium on the fourth day of play in the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals at Ariake Colosseum on Saturday night.
The win guarantees Japan, which has never medaled in the event which began in 1993, no worse than the silver medal.
Japan (4-0) will battle defending champion Brazil (3-1) for the gold medal in the final match on Sunday night when the six-team, round-robin tournament concludes.
Japan struggled in the first set, before finding its stride in the second behind the potent attack of Yukiko Ebata, Saori Kimura and Risa Shinnabe.
Ebata scored a team-high 11 points in the triumph, while Kimura and Shinnabe added 10 apiece.
“We weren’t so good at the start, but after the second set, we were able to target our serves well and we had good defense and good blocks,” said Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe. “We were targeting players in the beginning but they were receiving well.”
“I didn’t get on court from the start, like some of our other players, but we were all able to play in a good mood and win 3-0,” stated Ebata. “We haven’t won any medal in the World Grand Prix so far, so tomorrow we will play Brazil for the gold, which makes me happy.”
Lise Van Hecke notched a match-high 15 points for Belgium in the defeat.
In earlier action, Brazil put on a clinical display in scoring a straight-sets (25-12, 25-21, 25-20) victory over Russia.
Fabiana Claudino led the way for Brazil with 17 points.
Tatiana Kosheleva tallied a match-high 18 points for Russia in the defeat.
If Russia had been able to take a set or two off Brazil, it would have helped Japan’s overall chances at winning the title. But the South Americans were all business from start to finish on this day. The match had an air of inevitability to it from very early on.
The victory was the third straight for Brazil, while the result dropped Russia to 2-2.
Brazil is seeking its 10th title in this competition.
China downed Turkey in a five-set (25-22, 18-25, 22-25, 25-23, 21-19) thriller in the first match of the day.
Turkey, which scored a huge upset over Brazil in its first match on Wednesday, has now lost three straight to fall to 1-3. The Turks had several match points in the fifth set, but were unable to convert them.
The win improved China’s record to 2-2.
Liu Xiaotong paced the Chinese with 26 points.
Neriman Ozsoy registered a match-high 36 points in the loss for Turkey.