Japan survived a daunting challenge from up-and-coming Iran to pull off a dramatic 3-1 (25-21 20-25 25-21 25-21) victory over the fighting oppositions to clinch a semi-final berth at the “SMM” 5th AVC Cup for Women at the Vinh Phuc Gymnasium here on Sunday.
Against winless Iran in their crucial knockout quarter-finals, the Pool B winners Japan remained in their strong line-up led by Nanaka Sakamoto, Yaa Sugi and Yuka Imamura, while Iran also sent in a well-established roster powered by veteran Maedeh Borhani.
Japan made a poor start in the opening set when Iran put on a great show to lead 4-1 and widen the margin to 6-4. From then on, Japan made a strong comeback to score six straight points, thanks to Imamura’s powerful attacks and the team’s intensified defence. Japan overtook Iran 10-6, but Kishoshi Abo called a timeout when Iran regained their form to come close 15-18. Sakamoto tore the Iranian defence with her fierce spike to help Japan take a commanding 24-21lead before a Imamura’s powerful pole spike went unanswered. Japan took the first set 25-21.
Conceding one set, Iran fought back with all they had in the second set. With hard-attacking Zeinab Giveh and Mahsa Saberi overcoming the smaller blockers with their sharp spikes to help the team catch up with Japan 14-14 and surged ahead 23-19. Japan tried to up their tempo and came up with the improved form, but the Iranians held on to win the hard-fought set 25-20.
The third set was very closely-contested with Iran challenging the Japanese attacks with their solid blocks and thundering cross-court spikes. As Iran came near 19-22, Japan stretched their hands to smash their way to win the thrilling set 25-21.
Holding 2-1 advantage, the Japanese remained strong tactically and technically in the fourth set to lead 11-6 before widening the gap to 19-14. Iran’s head coach Serbian Majda Cicic called a timeout to improve her team’s fortunes and her attempts bore fruits well. As Japan were leading 24-17, as Iran saved four match points before Japan capture the set 25-21, match and a spot in the semi-finals.
On Monday, Japan will contest the semi-finals against the winners of the match between Kazakhstan and Vietnam, while Iran have have relegated to the 5th-8th classification round.
Nanaka Sakamoto tallied 17 points for Japan including 16 kills from 42 attempts, while Mahsa Saberi led Iran with 15 points including 14 deadly attacks from 41 attempts.
“I think Iran came much better in this match with high blocks and good attacks. We lost the second set because our setter did not live up to her form. She always passed the ball to the wrong positions, allowing our attackers scoring difficulties. However, I’m very happy that my team won and we are now in the semi-finals. As we will play the winners between Kazakhstan and Vietnam, we will come watch their match later in the evening and then we can make a plan how to play them in the semi-finals,” Japan’s head coach Kioshi Abo commented after the match.