Matera, Italy, July 22, 2003 - The USA on Friday slogged its way to a fourth straight win at the 2003 FIVB $1 million World Grand Prix women's volleyball tournament on Friday night, but not without difficulties against a gritty Germany. In other top action, Brazil blemished China's perfect record with a 3-1 victory in a day that saw the competition tighten and even some of the best were forced to bail themselves out of difficult situations.
But in perhaps the sensation of the day, so-far win-less Japan fought back from two sets down to storm to victory over world champions and hosts Italy to finish 3-2 (23-25, 16-25, 25-21, 26-24, 15-10). Italy as host is automatically qualified for the final round, but they have now been humbled three times in four matches in front of their home crowd and presently languish at the bottom of the Pool A table.
Nadia Centoni saved Italy's pride by top scoring with 23 points, well supported by Valentina Fiorin. Kana Oyama was Japan's best with 18 points.
Earlier, Russia used their superior height and fire power to ease past Canada in straight sets (25-17, 25-17, 25-14) in just over one hour for their third straight win in preliminary Pool B and in the other earlier match, the Netherlands came from two sets down to sneak a thrilling 3-2 win over Cuba in Pool A 23-25, 19-25, 25-23, 25-16, 15-13.
And in the only really easy match of the day Korea was untroubled by the young Thai pretenders, cruising to a straight sets (25-21, 25-13 and 25-10) victory.
The USA had one of their toughest encounters against last year's bronze medallists to finish on a dramatic note a match that looked more comfortable for them in the opening sets.
After sealing the first and second 25-21 and 25-20, the Americans were then caught on the hop when Germany charged back to take the third set by a massive eight points.
Then in the final fourth, it took the Americans until 33 points to shake off the German attack.
"It was a strong match from both teams and we both attacked and defended well," Said US captain Danielle Scott.
Germany's captain Angelina Grün, again a driving force for her team by powering on 21 points said they were finally beaten by their lack of experience. "I have to compliment the USA," she said. "We didn't have their experience and their patience." Grün was pipped by one point for top scorer by USA's Nancy Metcalf.
Germany now faces battle of attrition with the Netherlands in their final encounter in this round late on Saturday night I Pool A, while in Pool B, China, Brazil, Russia and Korea all have equal points with the above order decided only on set ratio and percentage points.
But in gripping late night action, Brazil succeeded in tarnishing China's so far perfect score when they delivered a 3-1 (25-22, 17-25, 26-24, 25-18) hammering, even if they failed to dislodge them from the top of Pool B. After splitting the first two sets, Brazil came from behind to win the crucial third set. Trailing by 24-22, the Brazilians ran off four straight points for the victory. China stayed within 17-15 in the fourth before losing eight of the last 11 points. Brazil head coach Marco Motta thought high quality blocking and defense led the Brazilians to the victory. "We are not afraid of the Chinese team," Motta said. "Today we did very well in blocking and defense and played better and better through the match."