Japan suffered its first loss of the women’s Olympic volleyball final qualifiers in a 3-1 (28-26, 25-17, 17-25, 25-19) defeat to archrival South Korea on Tuesday.
South Korea captain and London Olympic MVP Kim Yeon-koung blasted her way to a game-high 24 points, Kim Hee-jin adding 12. Miyu Nagaoka led Japan with 20 points.
The two teams met for the first time in Olympic qualifying, with South Korea also winning in the final qualifiers for London four years ago.
Japan dropped a set for the first time this tournament after failing to capitalize on three set points in the opening set.
Japan raced out to a 6-2 lead but South Korea gradually closed the gap, moving in front for the first time at 13-12. Nagaoka sparked Japan to its first set point at 24-23, only for Sarina Koga to serve long and throw South Korea a lifeline.
Nagaoka fooled the defense with the soft tap of her left hand to make it 25-24, but the visitors leveled again through Yang Hyo-jin. Nagaoka handed the hosts a third set point by beating the block, yet it was none other than Kim Yeon-koung who equalized before delivering set point at 27-26 with her 10th point of the match.
Kim Su-ji blocked Nagaoka as South Korea took the set at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
South Korea won the second set with far more ease, staying ahead after grabbing a 13-12 lead. Up 21-17, the South Koreans captured the last four points of the set, Kim Yeon-koung closing out with a service ace.
Japan rallied in the third set, never trailing and getting a boost from Yuki Ishii’s eight points off the bench. Haruyo Shimamura created set point with the flick of her wrist at 24-17, and Kim hit wide as Japan pulled within 2-1.
However, the home team could not carry the momentum into what would be the decisive fourth set. South Korea jumped out to a 5-1 lead and never looked back, Kim converting the second match point to seal the victory.
Italy improved to a perfect 3-0 at the women’s final Olympic qualifying after defeating the Dominican Republic in straight sets on Tuesday.
Italy won 25-22, 25-23, 25-23 while the prospect of playing in Rio de Janeiro is starting to look bleak for Dominica, which now has lost all three matches despite being the second-highest ranked team here after Japan.
The Netherlands bounced back from Sunday’s loss to South Korea with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-16, 25-20) victory over Thailand, while Peru picked up its second win after beating Kazakhstan 3-1 (19-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-23).