Iran secured its invite to this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games on Saturday, qualifying for the men’s Olympic volleyball competition for the first time and handing fellow Brazil-bound world champion Poland its first loss of the Tokyo qualification tournament.
Earlier, Antonin Rouzier scored 17 points in just three sets of court time to help France beat Venezuela and advance to their first Olympic Games since 2004.
“I am so happy now, I cannot say anything,” said Iran captain Mir Saeid Marouflakrani, who leads the tournament with a 9.42 average set rate.
“I am so happy because of our fans and for our family. I am so happy because we make history.”
He added: “Last time, four years ago, we lost and didn’t qualify for London because of one set against Australia. It was a really bad memory for us.
“We had good results in the last two years but the Olympic Games were the dream for us. I cannot believe it right now, because for all of us it was a dream.”
Despite some late nervous moments as Poland fought back from a two set deficit, Iran got it done in four to secure the one guaranteed place for an Asian team in Rio (25-20, 25-18, 20-25, 34-32).
Two days after confirming a place in Rio, Poland looked uninterested the first two sets, but came to life to put a scare into the Iranians. But with 24 points, Shahram Mahmoudi was able to lead his team to the win.
France’s Rouzier, who leads all scorers at the tournament, played a fine game at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, scoring all his points on spikes and doing it at an excellent 68 percent success rate. But it still took five sets for the 2015 FIVB World League champion to top the winless South American side (25-21, 23-25, 25-11, 20-25, 15-9).
“We started from scratch four years ago and this team sacrificed a lot, so our joy is much greater. I have to thank our coach,” said Rouzier.
France captain Benjamin Toniutti was clearly relieved for himself, and his teammates.
“I have been waiting for this day for a long time. Four years ago, we could not make it to the Olympics,” he said. “I am proud of this achievement. I hope we can show how great out team is (in Rio).”
Japan, with only pride and the unfalteringly upbeat crowd left to play for, fell to yet another loss in what has become a truly disastrous week for the Asian champions. This time it was Canada that prevailed over the home team (23-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-19), leaving Japan with a 1-5 win-loss record.
In Saturday’s first match, Australia rode a 21-point game from Thomas Edgar to put down a marker in the race for the last available qualification place, beating China convincingly (25-23, 25-22, 20-25, 26-24) for the team’s third win in Tokyo, and second in a row.
Fourth-place Australia and fifth-place Canada — with three wins, three losses and 10 points each — are now separated by only set win-loss ratio, with one of the pair the most likely to advance to Rio. China (2-4, eight points) is ranked sixth, but still has a chance to qualify on set win-loss ratio if it can beat Canada, and Australia lose to Poland in less than five sets.