April 15, 2003. Takahiro Yamamoto, the ace spiker of the Japanese men's team, says his side can upset the form book for this year's World League competition and qualify for the final round. Very big words considering Japan, ranked 12th in the world, must qualify second in their group amongst France, Argentina and Greece who are ranked 5th, 6th and tenth in the world respectively.
"After playing France and Greece in last year's World League and Argentina in the World Championship I don't think any of them has a definitive edge over us," Yamamoto said. "Although our record of last year against them isn't good, I believe we have a reasonable chance to be second in our group and qualify for the final round."
Japan lost all four of their matches against France last year but did beat Greece in their sole victory out of 12 World League matches last year. In their match against Argentina in the second round of the World Championship last year, Japan fought hard before eventually losing 3-2.
Yamamoto learnt during the World Championship just how important his role is within the green Japanese side. His inconsistent spiking plagued Japan as they stumbled to a sole win over Kazakhstan in the first round. But following a change in his action Yamamoto played arguably his best ever match of his career against Bulgaria to save his team from an unconvincing 13th place finish to eventually finish ninth.
"I am still improving," the 24-year-old left hander said. "Last year my serving was not consistent and I made a lot of mistakes, but now I can serve, not only effectively but I can serve smart by changing my serve pattern.
"However, above all I have to score with effective spiking when it comes to the crucial points. I have learnt that if my spiking is not consistent the team suffers, but if my spiking is effective, I can lead the whole team in the right direction."