Tokyo, Japan, November 14, 2010 - Japan upset second-ranked USA in a thrilling five-set match (18-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-19, 15-8) to win the bronze medal in front of a full house of 12,000 fans at the FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2010 at Yoyogi National Stadium on Sunday.
The hosts, ranked fifth in the world, played some extraordinary Volleyball to win their first FIVB Women's World Championship medal since claiming silver at the 1978 edition in Russia, and impressed many considering they were coming off a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Brazil on Saturday. It was Japan's first bronze medal to add to the three golds and three silvers already to their name.
For USA it was the first time they have finished fourth and the 2010 World Grand Prix champions will go home disappointed that they could not add to their two silver and bronze medals. Japan's Saori Kimura and USA's Destinee Hooker each scored 28 points in a dramatic contest that ended with Japan recording their 20th win in 43 matches against the Americans.
With the capacity crowd just taking their seats, Logan Tom and Kaori Inoue traded points before Yuko Sano saved a Hooker spike which Japan converted into a 2-1 lead. Although Tom netted a spike, Hooker then elevated to thump a spike straight down the tramlines as the United States took a 4-3 lead. Yukiko Ebata missed a spike wide from the left flank but redeemed herself with a missile down the middle for 6-4.
The US were testing Japan's court coverage, looking for signs of fatigue after their marathon loss to Brazil, but Saori and Yoshie Takeshita showed their determination as they both slid into their bench to save a rally, which Hooker finished for the US. The US led 8-6 at the First Technical Time-out (FTT) as the home crowd clapped golden 'stick balloons' in rhythm to the theme song by Japanese pop group Exile.
Jordan Larson smoked a service ace, while Ebata continued her fantastic play with a thundering hit from the left wing. Hooker then soared high to smack a winner and put the US 10-8 up. With American blockers rolling up at the net to block Ebata, she delicately tipped the ball cross-court for a winner but Hooker answered with another swooping swat for 12-10 and Larson scored twice to make it 14-11.
Foluke Akinradewo's serving targeted Saori to keep her out of Japan's initial attack and the US surged to 18-11. Home coach Masayoshi Manabe's introduction of captain Erika Araki paid off as she scored at the net and when Hooker netted a serve, Japan had more hope at 19-14. Yet Hooker's clever tip to the right caught Japan out of position and the US continued to attack through the sky-walking Hooker, with Japan’s shorter blockers struggling to stop her as Hugh McCutcheon's side took command at 23-16. With ace spiker Saori notching only two points in the set, Japan looked for a spark from substitutes Hitomi Nakamichi and Megumi Kurihara but Hooker soared above the other players on the court to give USA the set 25-18.
In the second set the US raced ahead 4-0 but American errors let Japan back in at 4-3. Hooker showed her accuracy as well as leaping ability when she found a tiny spot along the sideline and then scored from the other wing. Japan rallied from 7-4 down to 8-6 behind the efforts of Ebata and blocker Mai Yamaguchi's switch into an attacking position paid off as her spike propelled Japan within one point at 8-7. Saori, perhaps fatigued by her near-three hour effort the night before, netted a backcourt spike that she would usually make and Japan lost ground again at 11-7. Hooker's missile left substitute Mizuho Ishida rolling on the court at 12-7 but she got up to hit a winner in the hope of redeeming herself for missed serves against Brazil.
Inoue hit two winners from the right to make it 12-11 and force a US time-out and after Lindsey Berg missed a serve, Takeshita's serve squared the set at 13-all. Seizing the momentum, Saori tipped Japan into the lead at 14-13, then hit another accurate spike for 16-14. A determined Ishida hit another winner from the left for 18-15 but the US adjusted quickly and blocked both Ishida on the left and Yamaguchi on the right as they fought back to 20-20. Saori outmuscled the brawnier American blockers at the net to put Japan back in front and though the US were reading her feathery spikes, Saori duly adjusted and hammered home two powerful winners to put Japan 23-21 up. USA captain Jennifer Tamas saved one set-point at 24-22 but Ishida proved her coach right by hitting a winner to give Japan the set 25-23.
After a 10-minute break, Japan went 4-1 up at the start of the third set as Larson mistimed a tip, and Inoue blocked Hooker. Larson's spike made it 4-3, though, and the US regained the lead as Hooker slammed a ball off Takeshita. Tom gambled and netted a serve to give Japan back the momentum. A series of unforced errors by the US helped Japan stay ahead before Hooker made amends with a lightning bolt down the middle to equalise at 10-10. The teams were neck and neck with Larson giving USA the lead at 15-14 and 16-15 but when Tom's tip found a gaping hole, Japan were now trailing 19-16, forcing Manabe to call a time-out.
Ishida, in a replay of her misses the day earlier, served long at 19-18 extend the US lead and despite a Japan time-out, the Manabe's substitutes could not stop the onslaught. Hitomi Nakamichi could not dig out a ball that Sano would normally have got and Hooker compounded her problems by launching a howitzer down the middle for 23-18. Yamamoto kept Japan alive with a spike from the right but another substitute, Ino Akiko, could not handle Hooker's deep spike to give the US set points at 24-20. Hooker hit long, but then crushed a spike to clinch the set 25-21.
In the fourth set, Japan showed they would not fold without a fight, moving 6-2 ahead and re-energising a crowd chanting "Nippon, Nippon". After the FTT, Ishida kept her serve in play to take Japan 9-5 up and although the hosts' coverage seemed to lack its earlier oomph, allowing the US room to tip against a team that rarely lets a ball drop untouched, Saori similarly found space for a tip of her own to put Japan 11-7 up.
With Takeshita spreading Japan's attack around the court, they extended the cushion to 16-10. Looking for the killer instinct they lacked in previous matches, Takeshita found Yamamoto for a winner, Sano made an inspirational dig and Saori tipped it off American hands as Japan went 20-12 up. With Japan’s defenders puzzling the US, Hooker launched a spike long, and Larson missed wide as the score rose to 23-14 but the Americans then claimed five straight points, forcing Manabe to call time. Saori's spike brought a set point, however, and the US misplayed a ball to give Japan a convincing 25-19 win.
In the deciding fifth set, the crowd erupted after Saori capped a long rally, before Hooker put the US in front 2-1. Hooker decided not to play a Saori serve which nicked the line, and Ebata’s tip made it 5-3 for Japan. With Japan shifting coverage, Hooker missed long again to leave her side 7-4 down. Araki's error make it 7-5 but Ishida, playing a key role off the bench, leapt high for a winner to put Japan up 8-5 at the change. With Yamamoto finding space from her right-wing attack – a problem for the US defence throughout the match – and Saori hammering away, Japan kept picking up the points. They simply outhustled the US in the end, with Saori seemingly everywhere on the attack, as they finally clinched the set and claimed the bronze medal.