Osaka, Japan, November 18, 2009: Japan came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down to beat European champions Poland 3-2 in the last match of the first day of the Men’s World Grand Champions Cup on Wednesday night. The Asian champions won a gripping encounter 22-25, 25-15, 21-25, 25-21, 15-10, and owed a lot to an inspired passage of play from southpaw Kunihiro Shimizu in the fourth set which changed the complexion of the match.
Japan reached the first TTO with a one-point advantage, 8-7, thanks to a strong early showing from southpaw Kunihiro Shimizu on spike and serve. The Polish team was unrecognizable from the one that reached the FIVB World Championship final against Brazil in 2006, but Marcel Gromadowski and Bartosz Kurek were quick to show their ability, alongside veteran Daniel Plinski. Yusuke Ishijima stepped up the pace on the restart, and Tatsuya Fukuzawa began to find his range up the right flank. On the opposite side, Michal Bakiewicz used a variety of attacks to find spaces on the Japan court, and brought the Poles level 15-15. The Polish block tightened up on Shimizu, and Plinski forced Japan into a second TO with a swift spike at the net for 23-20. Shimizu returned to score two consecutive points with his powerful southpaw hits from the right flank, and now Poland needed a TO with just a one-point cushion, 23-22. With two set points at 24-22, Poland closed it out when Fukuzawa fired into the net.
Japan’s blocking swept them into a 5-1 lead in the second set, sending the Poles into a TO, and the gap had grown to five, 8-3, at the first TTO. On the restart, Japan scored an astonishing point with an Ishijima save way beyond the base line which Fukuzawa met on the run with an ebullient smash to send the crowd wild. Yoshihiko Matsumoto kept up the pressure with a clean winner at the net, and Japan’s relentless block carried them to 16-10 at the second TTO, eventually taming the dangerous Kurek. The Polish attack began to falter, and they called a TO trailing 19-12 on another wild spike. Fukuzawa, soaring down the middle, finished the second set 25-15, 1-1.
After the 10-minute entertainment break, Poland came back strongly through Jakub Jarosz, together with some Plinski blocking and a fired-up Michal Bakiewicz, and led 8-6 at the first TTO. Marcin Mozdzonek, who had registered four block points in the first two sets, kept Poland moving forward, and Japan took a TO down 10-7. The Poles were playing much better than in the second set, and managed to keep Japan at a safe distance, 16-11, at the second TTO. A Kurek block for 18-13 sent Japan into their second TO of the set, and Japan removed Fukuzawa at 21-14. Kurek was on fire, unstoppable with his mighty blows from the left, and Poland had six set points at 24-18 before closing it 25-21 for 2-1.
Shimizu and Fukuzawa tried to revive Japan at the start of the fourth set, and the blocking of Matsumoto took them into the first TTO ahead 8-7. Poland suffered at the hands of Shimizu, who scored three straight points with two kills and one stuff block to round off some superb Japanese defence. Trailing 12-11, Poland took a TO. There was no escape from Shimizu, who added one more spike then two straight fizzing aces for 16-12, having turned the set on its head with this one-man demolition act. On the restart from the TTO, Shimizu stunned Poland again with his fourth consecutive point, and his third service ace in a row for 17-12. Fukuzawa and Ishijima took up the attack and powered Japan to the fourth set, 25-21, 2-2. Shimizu had scored eight points in the fourth set, including his three aces for a match total of five.
Ishijima led Japan’s charge in the tiebreak; not only was his block and spike outstanding, but also his serve reception and his control under pressure in defence. Shimizu pounded Japan into a three-point lead, 8-5, at the turnaround, and continued to unsettle the defence with his booming serves. Poland needed a TO in big trouble, down 11-7, and with Japan sensing victory. Match point came at 14-9, before Japan closed it 15-10 with a Fukuzawa special.