Iran beat Japan in a fighting five-set thriller
Mighty Iran moved a step closer to capturing their third AVC Cup title as the world No.7 powered past Asian winners Japan in a hard-fought five-set thriller 25-21 17-25 25-20 23-25 15-11 in the semi-finals of the “SMM” 5th AVC Cup for Men at the Nakhon Pathom Gymnasium here on Tuesday.
Iran had already landed the prestigious AVC Cup in 2008 and 2010 before losing their crown to China in 2012 in Vietnam. At the previous edition two years ago, Iran had a disappointing outing to return from Almaty, Kazakhstan with their heads low in great despair after finishing a below-par fourth place.
In their Tuesday’s semi-final clash against formidable Japan, unbeaten Iran were strong with the likes of powerful attackers Rahman Davoodi, Mohammad Taher Vadi and Alreza Mobasheri, while Japan were led by talented Yuki Ishikawa, who won the Best Outside Hitter Award at the 2015 FIVB World Cup and the second Best Outside Hitter Award at the 2016 World Olympic Qualification Tournament.
Iran, the only team from Asia qualified for the 31st Olympic Games to finish joint fifth place in Rio de Janeiro, got off to a flying start to lead Japan by wide margin 15-11, thanks to their rock solid defence and sharp shots by Davoodi and Mobasheri. Japan regrouped and hit back mightily to narrow the gap 20-24. However, Iran allowed them one more point before winning the set 25-21, courtesy of a lightning-fast spike from Amin Esmaeilnezhad.
Ishikawa gave Japan a strong comeback in the second set when he penetrated the Iranian defence with his deadly attacks to put his team in the pole position 13-11. Japan stretched the lead to 20-16 when Iran’s nerves began to fray and they became prone with mistakes. Japan did not look back after that and went on their fine form to win the set 25-17.
In the third set, Iran led from the start to finish. Japan, cheered on by their fans at the venue, tried to stage a fightback, but Iran remained in awesome form to win the set 25-20.
Japan gained the upper hand initially in the fourth set to lead 13-9. Iran hit back with sharp cross-court spikes from Davoodi and efficient blocks to catch up with the rivals at 23-23, but Japan still played well defensively to win the remaining two points for the hard-fought 25-23 win.
The battle was more thrilling when both teams were still locked in a tight contest in the decider. As Iran were leading 12-11, Mobasheri handed the team two straight points from his kills to move Iran to the first match point 14-11. Shortly after that, a spike from Issei Otake went wide. Iran won the deciding set 15-11, match and a final berth. It sparked an emotional scene after that. The Iranians were on cloud nine. They jumped for joy, danced around and hugged each other.
The fantastic win is the fourth final of Iran in the AVC Cup, but another nightmare for Japan, which have never advanced to the final showdown since the tournament’s inception in 2008 in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.
Alireza Mobasheri top scored with 16 points for Iran including 14 kills from 28 attempts. Amin Esmaelnezhad added with 10 kills. Saman Faezi contributed with 4 kill blocks. Yuki Ishikawa led Japan with 20 points including 15 kills. Issei Otake and Kenta Takahashi added with 13 and 11 kills respectively.
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