Japan qualified for a record 12th Olympics after winning the necessary two sets against Italy in the women’s volleyball final qualifiers on Saturday.
Japan captain Saori Kimura had her best game of the eight-team tournament with 31 point, though the hosts fell 23-25, 27-25, 27-25, 21-25, 15-9 to Italy.
After earning the bronze medal at the 2012 London Games, Japan punched the fourth and final ticket from this competition to Rio de Janeiro after the Netherlands, South Korea and Italy, which also needed just two sets to qualify.
Japan’s 18-13 lead was the biggest in a closely contested first set, the two teams trading point for point with neither able to open up a clear gap at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Italy equalized to make it an 18-18 game before going up by two on Martina Guiggi’s service ace. But Japan evened the score at 20-20 thanks to a block by Erika Araki, and Kimura’s spike gave Japan 24-22 set point.
Italy closed within one, but Cristina Chirichella served into the net as Japan went up 1-0.
The second set was just as close, with the Italians leading by no more than 12-8 and getting to set point at 24-22 after Paola Ogechi Egonu was blocked out.
Egonu netted her serve two points later, allowing Japan to even the score. But the 17-year-old came through at 26-25, handing Italy the set with a fierce spike.
The intensity continued into the third set, which the visitors would go on to win in a test of patience.
Japan kept Italy away by at least two points for most of the frame, Kimura creating set point at 24-23 with a spike. The Italians forced a second set point before producing one of their own at 26-25, Chirichella coming up with the big block.
Italy won the set on the next point to secure its place in Rio.
Japan raced off to an 8-3 lead in the fourth set, but former world champion Italy stayed within reach.
Yet, from 13-12, Japan began pulling away and had 24-17 set point thanks to a Miyu Nagaoka spike. Italy resisted, winning the next four points to worry the crowd. But it was Kimura’s night to remember, converting set point at the expense of the defense.
Earlier, the Netherlands defeated Peru 3-0 (25-16, 25-14, 25-17) to qualify for its third Olympics and its first since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
South Korea lost in five sets (19-25, 22-25, 29-27, 26-24, 15-12) to Thailand, but secured enough points to end up among the top three teams or the highest other finisher from Asia.
The Dominican Republic defeated Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-20, 22-25, 25-12, 25-20) in a matchup of two previously eliminated teams.