RIO DE JANEIRO – South Korea threw a wrench into Japan’s plans for a second straight Olympic medal in women’s volleyball with a come-from-behind win in their opening match at the Rio Olympics on Saturday.
Looking to improve on their bronze medal from the 2012 London Games, the fifth-ranked Japanese looked more composed at the start against their ninth-ranked Asian rivals, but the tables were quickly turned in a 19-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-21 Pool A defeat.
Miyu Nagaoka was the top scorer for Japan with 19 points, followed by 12 from captain Saori Kimura.
“I was scoring points, but the ones I want to score are those that come at times that lead to wins,” said the 25-year-old Nagaoka, who made an impression with her precise spikes in her Olympic debut.
South Korea’s 192-cm captain Kim Yeon-koung, who unleashed 25 points on Japan in a four-set Olympic qualifying victory in May, led her team with 30 points.
“We’ve prepared long and hard for this,” Kim said. “I’m happy we could win.”
In the first match of the women’s tournament, the South Koreans initially appeared disorganized and tight, making more errors and having more difficulty with Japan’s serves in the first set.
They regrouped, took the lead 6-5 in the second set on a spike by Yang Hyo-jin, who was on the team that lost the bronze medal match in London, and never looked back.
“I didn’t really think of revenge. I just wanted to do well against Japan and do my best,” Yang said. “It was an important match against Japan. I wanted to do well, not for revenge.”
As they had during their qualifying defeat, Japan head coach Masayoshi Manabe’s charges ended up making the bulk of the errors, committing 20 to the South Koreans’ 13.
Trailing late in the first set, South Korea coach Lee Jung-chul switched out starter Park Jeong-ah for Lee Jae-yeong and it made an instant impact.
The Japanese women were soon put on the back foot by solid defending and riveting spikes from Kim, who delivered the second-set-clinching point, and led her team the rest of the way home.
“It’s the first game of the Olympics, and I think the players were nervous,” Manabe said. “We wanted to beat South Korea, our Asian rival, but we made too many mistakes. The Koreans served well and we allowed them too many points.”
Japan’s next match will be against 28th-ranked Cameroon on Monday, followed by host and world No. 2 Brazil on Wednesday. Japan will round out Pool A play against Russia and Argentina.
Brazil opened with a 25-14, 25-21, 25-13 victory over Cameroon, and Russia defeated Argentina 25-13, 25-10, 25-16.
In Pool B, the Netherlands needed five sets to down China, while the United States beat Puerto Rico and Serbia triumphed over Italy, both in straight sets.