Japan was forced to play another full-set match, but this time the host country emerged as the winner.
Miyu Nagaoka scored 15 points and Sarina Koga added 12 on spikes, leading Japan to a 25-18, 20-25, 30-32, 25-15, 15-13 comeback win over the Dominican Republic on Thursday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Japan finished the first round with a 4-1 record and is ranked second to Russia (5-0) in the 12-nation Women’s World Cup. Japan’s only loss came on Sunday after a five-set defeat to Russia. The Dominican Republic fell to 3-2.
“My players maintained their focus in such a long match and played well,” Japan head coach Masayoshi Manabe said. “Finishing the Tokyo round with a 4-1 record is significant for us to get the Olympic berth.”
Not only did the Dominican Republic have the height advantage against Japan, a key for blocking at the net, but also it showed solid receiving, led by Brenda Castillo, who was named the best digger and best libero at the 2012 London Olympics.
The visitors also delivered strong serves to prevent Japan from setting up its receive-toss-attack combination. Prisilla Rivera scored five points on powerful jump serves.
Japan countered with quickness, moving around Haruyo Shimamura and Riho Otake with quick passes. Yuki Ishii’s attacks from the far left side were also effective against the Dominicans.
Japan grabbed momentum by scoring seven consecutive points midway through the first set and won it. But the Dominican Republic started to adjust to the host’s attacks and took the the next two sets.
In the fourth set, Manabe put ace attacker Saori Kimura on the sideline, but substitutes Yurie Nabeya and Mami Uchiseto helped Japan regain its offensive rhythm and Shimamura also contributed with blocking points to even things up at two sets apiece, forcing a decisive fifth set.
The two countries fought to a 12-12 tie in the final set, but the Dominicans made back-to-back mistakes on attacking and blocking before Japan wrapped up the victory.
Earlier in the day at Yoyogi, Russia finished the first round with a perfect 5-0 record after a straight-sets win (25-19, 25-13, 25-18) over Cuba (1-4) and Argentina (2-3) beat winless Kenya 3-0 (25-12, 25-17, 25-20).
Meanwhile at Nagano’s Matsumoto City General Gymnasium, the United States (4-1) needed only 52 minutes to trounce hapless Algeria (0-5) 3-0 (25-7, 25-3, 25-5). China improved its record to 4-1 with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-18, 25-17) triumph over Peru (1-4). Serbia (4-1) defeated South Korea (2-3) 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-15).
The second round runs from Sunday to Tuesday as Japan, Russia, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Serbia and Peru compete at Sendai City Gymnasium while the United States, China, Argentina, Algeria, Cuba and Kenya fight at Momotaro Arena in Okayama.
The final round is scheduled for Sept. 4-6 at Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, where Japan, Russia, China, the Dominican Republic, Algeria and the U.S. play, and at Park Arena Komaki in Aichi Prefecture where the other six battle. The top two nations will earn the berth for the next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.