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Bulgaria hand Japan first loss in 2013 World Grand Prix

Strashimira Filipova shows her power in Bulgaria's win over Japan on Friday

Sendai, Japan, August 16, 2013 – Bulgaria handed Japan their first defeat of the 2013 FIVB World Grand Prix and they did it on Japan’s home turf, beating their hosts 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 31-29) at Sendai City Gymnasium on Friday. 

It was the first time the two had met in the World Grand Prix and the first time the Bulgarians had defeated Japan in any competition.

Japan now has a win-loss record of 6-1 staying on 17 points, while Bulgaria raised their record to 5-2 and 16 points, greatly improving their chances of reaching the Finals in Sapporo. Japan qualifies automatically for the Finals as hosts.

The host team had a young line-up of players who took to the court on Friday. And when Japan started out the match cold, coach Masayoshi Manabe called his players off court after an errant hit by Miyu Nagaoka took the score to 1-5. Another wayward strike saw Bulgaria move to an 8-2 advantage at the first technical timeout and that was to prove too big a mountain to climb for Japan, but only just. Manabe called his second timeout at 6-13 following a good block point and a kill by Emiliya Nikolova. The Bulgarian blocked Nagaoka on the next play and her team were eight points ahead at the second technical time out.

Bulgaria coach Marcello Abbondanza called a timeout when Japan reeled off three straight points to make the score 19-13 and did the same again when Japan closed to 21-17. As Japan found their feet, the Bulgarians got jittery and the gap narrowed to 21-19.  They earned four setpoints with a nice crosscourt kill by Elitsa Vasileva and they needed all of them as Japan nearly pulled off a remarkable escape following spikes by Yukiko Ebata and Saori Kimura and a block by Ebata. But Strashimira Filipova sent down a big hit to end the set at 25-23 and put her team 1-0 up.

Neither team played convincing volleyball at the start of the second set, but the Bulgarians still held their edge. They led 8-6 at the first technical time out before a couple of errors allowed Japan to level at 10-10. Three big points by Vasileva opened up a three-point gap, but a nice tipover by Ebata and two aces by Nana Iwasaka saw the teams level again.

Bulgaria were two up at the second  technical time out but a solid block by Kimura on Filipova saw Japan lead for the first time in the match at 17-16. Bulgaria got the jitters again and Japan were up by three points. But Aimi Kawashima served long before two good points by Dobriana Rabadzhieva drew the teams level at 20. Bulgaria got a big break at 21-21 when Rabadzhieva’s serve trickled over the net. Ebata then blew two kills wide and Bulgaria had three setpoints. Again, they needed them after spikes by Ebata and Kimura took the score to 24-23, but Nikolova sent a spike through the Japanese defence to put her team 2-0 up. 

Risa Shinnabe came up with four points in the first phase of the third set, and a big thump down the middle saw Japan 8-5 ahead at the first technical time out. Abbondanza called a timeout a point later, but Japan were not firing on all cylinders and allowed Bulgaria to level at 11-11. Manabe called a timeout at 12-14 to try and settle his players but his team dropped the next two points.

Rabadzhieva delivered some more power hits and after an ace by Lora Kitipova gave Bulgaria the lead at 22-21, Manabe called a timeout. Abbondanza did likewise when a block by Iwasaka saw Japan take a 23-22 lead. Akari Oumi then placed her next serve squarely into the net. Two huge blocks by Iwasaka brought Japan their first set point, but they could not convert as the two teams traded points to 29-29. A wide shot handed Bulgaria their fifth matchpoint with Rabadzhieva finally fending off Japan’s challenge to take the set and match at 31-29.

In Saturday’s pool M match, Japan’s next challengers will be current World Grand Prix title holders, the US while Bulgaria gets set to meet the Czech Republic.

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