Japan scored a moral and physical victory on Friday when they delivered a crushing blow to the French at home in Nante in their Pool D Intercontinental Round encounter of the FIVB $15 million World League to seal the match 3-1.
The visitors plowed through the home side 25-15 in the first set after the French failed to get a grip on their nerves against a daring Japanese team and let themselves be dominated right from the point when Hosokawa stepped up to serve and scored 8 straight winners (from 9-12 to 9-20), well supported by Yamamoto and Ito at the net.
Lemarrec came on for setter Patin in the second set but it was not enough to settle the French team into the match. They wasted a match ball (24-23) and finally failed 24-26 to give the Japanese a commanding lead. Andy Ces came on in the third to shore up Philippe Blain's side. They got briefly back in the match with a three-point lead in the third, but confronted by efficient serving and solid defense by the Japanese, they left the court soundly defeated by the visitors.
Meanwhile Cuba opened their account impressively with a five-set, over two hour marathon against Bulgaria in the Black Sea resort town of Varna to signal this young side is about to reclaim Cuba’s former dominance in top level competition. “This match was very good for us,” said Cuban coach Eliseo Ramos Rivas. “We knew that we would play against a strong Bulgarian team. We are very young team and we played aggressively,” he said. Milorac Kijac, the Bulgarian coach conceded his team had let victory slip from them by making too many mistakes.
Italy was at home in Perugia to the young and spirited Portuguese side and showed no sign of fatigue from having closed their domestic league season just days before. They captured an early advantage by snatching the first set by 9 points for a 25-16 finish. The Portuguese, under the guiding hand of Cuban-born coach Juan Diaz were also no match for the Squadra Azzura in the second or third, allowing the Italians a straight sets (25-16, 25-18, 25-19) victory to launch their World League title bid for 2003.
At home, Greece also delivered a blow to a spirited Czech side who drove them to the tiebreaker 3-2(21-25, 25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 15-13) before conceding defeat in the last minutes of the 2 hours 22 minutes match to hand them their third victory of the series. Greece in Pool D started one week earlier than other Pools and scored two victories over Japan last weekend.
"The score is by itself proof enough of how equal the two teams were tonight,” said Greek head coach Stelios Prosalikas. “I am very satisfied because we defeated the best Czech team we have ever played against.”