Ningbo, China, August 27, 2010 - Japan pulled out a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Italy in the FIVB World Grand Prix finals here to shock the 2010 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup winners on Friday.
The Japanese team, who also shocked defending champions Brazil in another five-set thriller on Wednesday, edged past the European champions 23-25, 25-14, 26-28, 25-20, 17-15 to embrace their second win in the six-team round-robin competition.
The opening set was a very close affair, with Italy taking a narrow 8-7 lead into the first TTO. After the break, the Italians won three points in a row to pull away to 11-7.
Japanese coach Masayoshi Manabe was quick to call a timeout, and her team managed to equalize 18-18 thanks to a chain of powerful attacks by star spiker Saori Kimura. When the two sides were level at 23-23, Francesca Piccinini smashed a kill from the flank and then had a great block on Kimura to help Italy wrap up the set 25-23.
Japan started well in the second set, going into the first technical timeout 8-4. Trailing by 12-4, Italian coach Massimo Barbolini asked for a timeout in a bid to change the momentum, but the Japanese girls kept their lead throughout, taking the set 25-14.
The Italians came back aggressively in the third set and went 8-5 ahead before the first TTO. But Japan staged a 7-3 run to overtake the lead (12-11) and then widened the gap to 17-12. A string of blocking efforts led by Antonella Del Core enabled Italy to regain their lead. When 24-21 up, Italy wasted three straight set points as the dogged Japanese fought bravely. However, the Italians eventually converted on their fifth set point to claim the set.
In the fourth set, Italy raced to an 8-5 lead before the first TTO. From then on, the game became a see-saw battle until Kimura led a 7-2 run for Japan to break the 18-18 deadlock and close out the set.
The two sides battled more heatedly in the decisive fifth frame as the scoring difference never exceeded two points. When Japan were leading 16-15, Mai Yamaguchi blocked a spike by Lucia Bosetti to seal the victory.
On Saturday Japan will face Poland while Italy play Brazil who they beat in the first preliminary round in Sao Carlos.