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Sarina Koga scored a team-high 14 points and Miyu Nagaoka added 13 as Japan got off to a good start in the FIVB Women’s World Cup by beating Argentina 25-16, 25-19, 25-12 on Saturday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

Japan is playing host for the 12th straight World Cup, which features a 12-nation field in a round-robin competition. The top two teams will earn Olympic berths for the 2015 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.

Japan, which lost the first matches in the 2014 World Championship and the World Grand Prix in July, started slowly, struggling to establish the combination between setter Chizuru Koto and wing spikers Saori Kimura and Nagaoka.

“I was nervous at the beginning of the match and it affected my teammates,” Koto said.

With Argentina up 10-9 in the first set, however, Japan used strong serves by Nagaoka and Kimura to build a rhythm. Japan scored four unanswered points on Nagaoka’s serve and Kimura’s for a 19-11 lead before taking the set.

“Our service set the tune for us in the early stage of the match,” said Japan head coach Masayoshi Manabe, who also praised the team’s defensie improvement.

“We worked hard on improving our defense the last 20 days. I hope that will work for our next opponent Russia on Sunday.”

While Kimura and Nagaoka have been established spikers for Japan, the 19-year-old Koga made the statement as a new rising star. Koga had 11 points while spiking as well as two from blocks and one on service.

Argentine players took advantage of their height to score points on blocks and fought to a 16-16 tie in the second set, but defensive mistakes cost the South American squad the set and allowed Japan to have an easy win in the final set.

“We had a hard time adjusting to the arena’s atmosphere,” Argentina coach Guillermo Orduna said. “We rarely play in big arenas like this and in front of this much audience. We also had difficulty to adjust to Japan’s speed.”

Meanwhile, Russia, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1999, defeated the Dominican Republic 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-18) earlier on Saturday. Nataliya Obmochaeva scored 18 points on spikes, followed by Yana Shcherban’s 12. Cuba defeated Kenya 3-1 (27-25, 25-23, 12-25, 25-22).

In the other venue in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture the United States won 3-0 (25-15, 25-22, 25-15) over South Korea. China overcame a one-set deficit to beat Serbia 3-1 (19-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-19). Peru marked a straight-sets win (25-16, 25-13, 25-16) over Algeria.

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