Nagoya, Japan, November 21, 2009 - Japan added the scalp of Iran to their Grand Champions Cup collection with a sensational 3-2 victory on Saturday night. The hosts improved their win-loss record to 3-0 with a 27-25, 18-25, 25-23, 20-25, 16-14 victory in front of 8,000 screaming fans at Nippongaishi Hall. Iran, who saved two match points in the tiebreak before losing it on an attack error after a tense and scrappy rally, dropped to 1-2 but won many new admirers with a fast and spirited display.
Although Japanese southpaw Kunihiro Shimizu was quickly among the points, the Iranian block tightened up immediately and denied both Shimizu and Tatsuya Fukuzawa on the way to a two-point lead, 8-6, at the first TTO. At the net, Yoshihiko Matsumoto and Mohammad Mousavi exchanged crisp blows in a furious start. The gap remained at two in Iran’s favour, 16-14, at the second TTO, thanks in no small measure to the fluid back-court attacks of Hamzeh Zarini, who pierced the Japanese defence consistently. For the home team, Yusuke Ishijima pulled off a crashing block on Alireza Nadi and then spiked for another point. A Saeid Marouf block on Shimizu – one of four by the setter in the first set - sent Japan into their second TO at 19-15, and they returned for Ishijima to step up the pace and close the gap to 20-18, forcing Iran into a TO. In a tense finish, Japan saved one set point before Shimizu forced one through on Japan’s second set point for 27-25. It was the lefty’s ninth spike of the set.
Iran put the disappointment of missing one set point behind them and started the second set at a brisk pace. Arash Kamalvand scored smoothly down the left, and Mousavi continued his fine form at the net as the visitors led 8-6 at the first TTO. The floating serves of Adel Gholami caused all sorts of problems for the Japan reception, and Mousavi blocked Fukuzawa and Yoneyama to give his team a four-point lead, 16-12, at the second TTO. Japan changed setters, Abe for Usami, at 17-12, but the problems continued and they called a TO trailing by six. Mohammad Kazem was proving hard to control with his booming spikes down the right side, and it was Kazem who blazed through a three-man block to end the second set 25-18, 1-1.
Iran’s block started the third set strongly, helping the team lead 8-6 at the first break. Japan replied with a Tomimatsu block on Kamalvand, before the Japanese centre player ran smoothly off setter Abe and spiked cleanly down the middle. Kamalvand’s block on Shimizu for 13-9 to Iran, forced Japan coach Ueta to change his setter again, and Yoneyama responded with a crashing block on Kazem. Shimizu seized on the moment by fizzing down an ace to close the gap to 13-12, sending Iran into a TO. The blocking of Marouf and spiking of Zarini maintained the pressure, but Iran could not pull away down the stretch. Tomimatsu blocked Kamalvand for 23-22 Japan and Fukuzawa blazed Japan to two set points at 24-22 after some incredible Japanese defence. Fukuzawa ended the third set 25-23, 2-1 Japan.
In the fourth set, Iran built up a three-point lead by the first TTO, 8-5, with Gholami increasing their already impressive tally of block points. Zarini found a new lease of life, and Japan were in trouble at 11-7 and called a TO. Although Japan fought back through Tomimatsu, with another clean winner at the net and a service ace, Iran’s blocking setter Marouf took his team into the second TTO with a four-point cushion, 16-12. The lead grew to six as the set progressed before Iran closed the deal 25-20 on their second set point, 2-2. By this stage, Marouf had registered nine of Iran’s 19 block points.
Southpaw Shimizu gave Japan an early two-point margin in the tiebreaker and Fukuzawa stepped up the pace as Japan led 8-7 at the turnaround, Iran relying on Mousavi to keep the points coming down the middle. Japan let themselves down with weak serve reception in the tiebreak, but Shimizu lifted the team with a stupendous block on Zarini for 11-9, Iran TO. Japan missed two match points from 14-12 with serve and attack errors, but won it on their third 16-14 when Kazem’s attack was long.