Japan and Korea carry dreams of Asian glory in semis with Brazil and USA
This is the first time since the 1988 Olympics in Seoul that two Asian teams have made it to the semis. Back then, it was China and Japan that eventually lost to the Soviet Union and Peru respectively to be relegated to the bronze medal match. Japan is back in contention for an Olympic medal 24 years after losing that classification match to China in Seoul, while the absence of the Republic of Korea has been even longer, with the last top-four finish dating back to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. As for Brazil and USA, they will try to find their way to the last and deciding act for what would be a remake of the final match played four years ago in Beijing and claimed by the South Americans.
Korea vs. United States
The USA and Korea have already crossed their ways in the Olympic tournament and right on the first day of action for preliminary Pool B. The team coached by Hugh McCutcheon could score a 3-1 win for what is one of the two sets conceded by the US Americans to their opponents in this Olympic adventure. Being ranked first in the world and coming from a terrific campaign in the FIVB World Grand Prix where they swept all of their matches, Team USA are seen as the clear-cut favourite of this clash, but Korea won’t be an easy opponent, as their offense is anchored by one of the finest volleyball players out there, opposite Kim Yeon-Koung, who has amassed a total of 165 points in the tournament.
Korea caused the major sensation of the 1/4 finals by edging Italy and Team USA will have to find a way to stop Kim to cruise to the final match of the Olympic tournament. After she missed the 1/4 final where her side easily downed the Dominican Republic in straight sets, setter and captain Lindsey Berg shall be back in action to marshal the US American spikers and especially Destinee Hooker, the third-best scorer of the competition so far with 123 points. This will be the eighth Olympic confrontation between these teams, with USA having a positive record of 5 wins and 2 losses including the victory scored 10 days ago at Earls Court.
Brazil vs. Japan
In the second semi-final the 2008 Olympic champions of Brazil – who edged Russia in the 1/4 finals after saving six match balls and a highly emotional fifth set – will take on Japan. It will be a very interesting clash as two different ways of playing and conceiving volleyball are just about to test their respective likes, with Japan’s stellar defence going to make it difficult for the Brazilian spikers to score with the consistency they are used to.
Saori Kimura and Yukiko Ebata have shown some great quality in offense for Japan in a classy 1/4 final with China as they scored 33 points apiece; on the other side of the net, Sheilla Castro will be the major threat for the Japanese back line and block, especially as she has gradually stepped up the quality of her performances throughout the tournament. Japan will have to reverse a pretty negative record on the Olympic arena having lost all previous matches with Brazil, three, to be able to make it to the final, something a Japanese team has not accomplished since the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
For full features visit www.fivb.org