The Japan women’s volleyball team can reach a record 12th Olympics with a victory over Italy after breezing past the Dominican Republic in straight sets in the women’s final qualifiers on Friday.
Japan will punch its ticket to Rio de Janeiro if it defeats Italy on Saturday in the eight-team group. Japan is fourth, a point behind the Netherlands, South Korea and Italy, and can also qualify if both Thailand and Peru lose against South Korea and the Dutch, respectively.
Japan triumphed 25-22, 25-16, 27-25 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium to send the Dominicans to their fifth defeat in as many games. The Dominican Republic is last in the eight-team group, having won just one set in the tournament.
Despite closing in on another Summer Games appearance, Japan captain Saori Kimura was not about to become complacent.
“We didn’t play particularly well, so we need to make some adjustments before going into tomorrow’s game,” Kimura said. “We wanted to get off to a good start, but we shouldn’t have allowed as many points as we did against a Dominican team off their form tonight.
“We were determined to win the match in straight sets. We didn’t have the best of our performances but we won and that’s what counts. We just need to prepare well for the Italy game.”
Miyu Nagaoka led all scorers with 21 points off the bench for Japan, which takes on Italy on Saturday. Prisilla Rivera Brens was the top Dominican scorer with 14 points.
Earlier Friday, Italy suffered its first loss here, going down 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-14) at the hands of the Netherlands.
The hosts took the first set after the Dominicans spiked wide, and Nagaoka gave Japan a 22-21 lead it would hold on to.
In the second set, Nagaoka created set point with a spike at 24-15 and two points later, blasted another to hand Japan the set. Japan had to fight off set point at 24-23 in the final set before captain Saori Kimura converted the second match point to give her team the win.
Nagaoka started but had a quiet five points in Wednesday’s dramatic five-set victory over Thailand. She dismissed any notion of being unhappy about starting Friday’s game on the bench.
“It was a game we had to win no matter what,” the lefty said. “The third set was close but we found a way to win. It doesn’t matter whether I start or not.
“The most important thing is to be a team, one for all, all for one.”
South Korea was in second place after a 3-1 (18-25, 25-22, 25-14, 25-21) win against Peru.
Thailand bounced back from its tearful five-set defeat to Japan on Wednesday, cruising past Kazakhstan 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-15).