Japan’s campaign to secure a place in the Rio 2016 men’s volleyball field is all but over after the team lost its third straight game, this time to Iran, on Wednesday.
Japan’s four-set loss means it now has a one-win, three-loss record while Iran, which is best placed to take the one automatic Asian qualification spot, is 3-1 with three matches remaining.
Poland had earlier mounted its second two-set comeback of the tournament at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, defeating China to remain unbeaten and move one step closer to a place in Rio.
“In today’s match we were in a very difficult situation and we had to win. Both teams played good volleyball to the end, but the Iranians kept their concentration better than us,” said Japan captain Kunihiro Shimizu, who scored 23 points in the match.
“Their service game was effective and their receiving was better than ours.”
Yuta Yoneyama said Iran’s tactic to serve directly at Yuki Ishikawa played a big role in Japan’s inability to make inroads.
“They were aiming at Ishikawa with their serve to prevent our pipe (central) attacks, so as much as we could we tried to keep him off the ball.” he said.
“They were one notch better than us, (we could afford) one mistake maybe, but we had successions of two or three mistakes, we need to improve that.”
Japan coach Masashi Nambu said his team knew what was required, but could not do enough.
“This was a match we couldn’t lose, the whole team had a lot at stake,” he said. “We were not too bad actually, we showed a lot of resilience, but the loss was determined by mistakes.
“Today, there was only a paper-thin difference between victory and defeat. We failed to score when we should have in the early stages and that had an impact later in the match.”
Japan lost the first set 25-20 with Iran’s primary setter Mir Saeid Marouflakrani causing havoc with some excellent misdirection that left Japan’s blockers jumping at shadows, while on the other side of the ball, Iran’s front line proved difficult to pierce — recording five blocks to Japan’s zero in the first.
The second set saw Japan adjust and nullify Iran’s blocking as the home team evened the match (25-19). Any momentum Japan built was lost midway through the third, however, as a string of errors allowed Iran to gain separation which it held to the end of the set (25-20).
With a 20-17 fourth set lead, Japan looked like it would send the match to a decider, but two particularly poorly timed faults allowed Iran back to take the win on its second match point (27-25).
Earlier, Poland dropped the first two sets against China 26-28 and 20-25 before getting on track to take the final three stanzas 25-16, 25-17, 15-10.
Poland’s Bartosz Kurek carried his team, finishing with 22 points on 19 of 33 spikes, a block and two aces.
France beat Australia in four sets, but it took an extraordinary 86-point fourth set to finish it off.
After winning the first two sets fairly easily (25-22, 25-18), France let Australia back into the match in the third and then needed every ounce of effort to close it out 44-42 in the fourth.
France rode balanced scoring with Antonin Rouzier finishing with 23 points. Australia, which was without star player Thomas Edgar, relied heavily on Paul Carroll, who scored a match and tournament single-game high 34 points.
Canada, searching for its first Olympic Games slot since 1992, continued to improve, beating a winless Venezuela (25-20, 25-20, 27-25) to take its second victory in a row and move to a 2-2 record, equaling fourth-place China with 7 points and trailing only on set ratio.