Tokyo, Japan, October 28, 2010 - Japan electrified their hometown crowd with a marathon five-set 3-2 (26-28, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-12) comeback win against Pool A rivals Poland at Yoyogi Stadium on Friday.
In the process the hosts recorded their 13th win in 19 encounters between two of the favourites in the pool, including six in the last nine matches. The stunning victory reversed a defeat by Poland in the 2010 World Grand Prix Final Round while repeating the Asians' dramatic five-set victory at the Beijing Olympic Games.
Star player Saori Kimura led the home team's scoring with 25 points while Kaori Inoue added 16 of her own. For Poland, Joanna Kaczor delivered 24 points with Anna Werblinska chalking up another 21.
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Japan opened in strong fashion with Kimura taking a soft set from Yoshie Takeshita to drive a spike down the middle to start. Yukiko Ebata followed with two impressive serves that both found the mark to put Japan 3-0 ahead, but Poland responded with a pair of spikes from Malgorzata Glinka-Mogentale, closing the gap to 5-4.
Ebata's kill put Japan 8-5 up going into the First Technical Timeout (FTT) and the teams then traded points until a long serve by Werblinska and another kill by Ebata extended the hosts' lead to 12-7, forcing Poland into a timeout. Japan edged further ahead with a Kimura spike that painted the sideline before Inoue produced a spike after a miraculous Takeshita dig, making it 16-10 going into the Second Technical Timeout (STT).
Coming back out, Poland showed great spirit with the influential Werblinska firing no fewer than four lasers through the heart of Japan's defence to restore parity at 17-17, forcing the opposition into a timeout. Poland then took the lead at 20-19 and once the European Championship bronze medallists and world No.8 had their noses in front, they refused to look back. Kaczor and Saori traded points until an errant drive by Saori gave Poland the set at 28-26.
The Poles kept the momentum going in the second set, with some strong serving frustrating Japan's Yuko Sano as they opened up a 4-1 lead. Inoue responded with two wonderful attacks, only to follow with a long serve that left her side 6-4 down. With Werblinska maintaining her aggressive net play with a spike down the centre, the Poles held an 8-5 advantage going into the FTT. If Werblinska produced a wonderful touch at the net, she was not alone – Kaczor contributed several blocks to help Poland move 14-8 ahead. Japan replied with a great dig by the diminutive Takeshita which set up Ebata at the net for a spike, making it 16-11. But Poland kept ahead down the stretch with a powerful spike by Glinka-Mogentale putting them ahead at 21-14 before Katarzyna Gajgal came in with an vicious spike to win the second set 25-21 and quieten the home crowd.
In an even opening to the third set, both teams showed great defensive work in a long rally that ended with a Saori put-away to tie it at 4-4. Saori Sakoda came in and made her presence felt with a spike down the middle but she later had difficulty with a tip at the net that fell back on her side, giving Poland an 8-7 edge going into the FTT. Milena Sadurek dropped a wonderful ball over the net to make it 10-9 for Poland but then Japan's Sakoda fired a kill of her own. Poland's Gajgal continued the back and forth, keeping her team on top at 14-11 and forcing Japan into a timeout.
When the action resumed Werblinska continued to pummel attacks at Japan, being blocked once, and finding the mark on the next attempt to make it 16-15 at the STT. Yet the tide began to turn as Ebata put a stubborn block on Kaczor to tie the scores at 17-all before Saori produced a flurry of superb attacks that led to a set-point at 24-20. She finished off the set with a hard service that Poland could not handle, so keeping home hopes alive.
With Sakoda delivering a pair of spikes and two miraculous digs, Japan took an 8-6 lead into the FTT in the fourth set and Masayoshi Manabe's team kept ahead with the help of Megumi Kurihara, who contributed a soft put-away at the net and a spike down the centre. Sakoda drove an attack of her own through the Poland defence to make it 13-10 but she was then blocked as the Europeans closed the gap to 13-12.
Saori missed the sideline with a strike and was frustrated at the net by Polish blockers as Jerzy Matlak's side went 15-14 in front and the hosts called a timeout when Poland extended their lead at 19-17. Japan were soon trailing 22-19 but Sakoda cut the deficit with an ace that the defenders hoped would go long and when a Gajgal attack went wide, the teams were back level at 22-all. With attacks from Mai Yamaguchi and Inoue, Japan earned a set-point at 24-23 and an errant serve by Poland duly handed it to them 25-23.
Into the decider and both teams came out looking take charge. Locked at 5-5, key spikes from Saori and Inoue gave Japan an 8-7 edge at the technical timeout. Glinka-Mogentale then tied the scoring at 10-10 with a powerful drive but Poland’s resistance was crumbling. Kurihara found the mark on an attack after some great defensive work by Takeshita and that set up Inoue to drive a spike home to reach 15, completing an incredible comeback which hopefully sets the tone for a magnificent tournament.