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Brazil outlast Japan in epic semifinal

Brazil's players celebrate their impressive triumph against hosts Japan on Saturday

Tokyo, Japan, November 13, 2010 - Tokyo, Japan, November 13, 2010 - In one of the greatest matches in Volleyball history Brazil came from two sets down to outlast Japan (22-25, 33-35, 25-22, 25-22 and 15-11) in a two-hour, 20 minute marathon semifinal in front of an ecstatic crowd of 12,000 at the 2010 FIVB Women's World Championship at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan on Saturday.

For Brazil Sheilla and Natalia registered 25 and 23 points respectively while captain Fabiana added 20 to the winning effort and Thaisa and Jaqueline each charted 12 points. The Olympic champions were particularly effective at the net where they recorded 21 blocks including six from Sheilla and five from Fabiana. Japan's Yukiko Ebata and Saori Kimura compiled 29 and 25 points respectively while Ai Yamamoto scored 11.

In the first set, after Jaqueline was called for stepping on the line, Japan held a two-point edge at 22-20.  But Castro's spike a few feet from the net then caught Japan off-balance to inch Brazil within a point and Japan's ace, Kimura, needed a flurry of spikes to finally throw Brazil out of bounds to go up 23-21 despite an amazing save by Jaqueline. After saving one set point, Brazil were whistled for touching the net and the Japanese crowd erupted in delirium as their team captured the set 25-22.

 The second set was one of the greatest in Volleyball history, with relentless ties and lead-changes, and unbreakable will to win on both sides taking the score to 29-29. On set-point an over-anxious Castro served long, but Natalia saved her with a left-wing winner for another set-point. In the best point of the match so far, Ebata soared for a winner to equalise at 31-31. With no respite from the supercharged intensity, Jaqueline soared above the court for a clean winner, but then missed a placement attempt to give Japan another set-point. Thaisa kept the relentless drama going with an easy put-away to tie it at 33-33. Kimura's spike gave Japan another set point. In one of the most memorable points ever for Japan, Yuko Sano saved a spike off her shoulder, Yoshie Takeshita dug out another ball, and finally Kimura clinched the set 35-33, as the home crowd fell over themselves in amazement, as their team led two sets to nil.

Even after a much-needed 10-minute break, the intensity did not let up in the third set, with ties all the way to 12-12, thanks to great hustle plays such as Fabi's incredible foot save. With coach Ze Roberto nodding in agreement at his team's tactics, Sassa surprised Japan's defenders and two deflections gave Brazil a two-point advantage at 20-18.  A rare Japanese service miss made it 21-19, but Thaisa was called on the net, for 21-20.  Brazil continued to look elsewhere for offence, and using Castro and Jaqueline as decoys, found blocker Fabiana for two spikes to go up 24-21. Ebata's winner held off a set point, but again Fabiana leapt into the role of spiker and crushed a winner to seize the set 25-22.

In the fourth set both teams continued to slug it out, trading leads and altering tactics on the fly. Kimura emerged to hit a winner, but Mizuho Ishida came off the bench just long enough to launch a serve long to gift Brazil the lead 22-21 – an error which would cost Japan dearly in the set. Fabi and Sano exchanged amazing saves, as Japan levelled at 22-22. Sassa and Thaisa blocked Kimura's spikes from both the left and the right to give Brazil two points and a 24-22 edge. At set point, Japan lunged for a ball that may have been going out, and Brazil held on to win 25-22 and even the match at two sets apiece.

In the deciding fifth set, Castro soared for a spike to make it 11-8 to Brazil, and Natalia blasted another from the left wing for 12-8. Ebata could not dig out a ball out of bounds, and Japan appeared on the edge of defeat at 13-8. Kimura kept their hopes alive with a spike to 13-9. But again, Natalia simply overpowered Japan's defence, to give Brazil match point at 14-9.  Japan saved one match point, and then Brazil seemed ready to celebrate when Kimura came out of nowhere to save a ball out of bounds but Fabiana finally ended a marathon match with a spike, giving Brazil a 15-11 set and the match, after two hours and 20 minutes of neck-and-neck play.

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