Tokorozawa, Japan, June 10, 2009 - Japan Men's National Team, currently ranked 9th in the FIVB World Rankings, will play its first matches of the World League this Saturday and Sunday against Russia (ranked 3rd) at the Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium in Japan.
Japan hasn't beaten Russia since September 28, 1997, so the games are expected to be tough for the hosts. The last time Japan faced Russia was in the final round of the 2008 World League, when Japan lost in straight sets (14-25, 24-26, 18-25). Japan hopes to avenge that defeat this weekend.
Last year was a memorable year for Japan as the team qualified for the Olympics for the first time in 16 years. Japan's head coach, Tatsuya Ueta, succeeded in finding a perfect blend of youth and experience, with youngsters such as Kunihiro Shimizu and Tatsuya Fukuzawa joining the fold. Although Japan finished 11th at the Beijing Olympics, the young players gained precious experience and confidence at the tournament.
Both Shimizu and Fukuzawa were university students at the time of the Beijing Olympics, but they have been playing in the V-Premier League since January. Ueta says that Shimizu and Fukuzawa have improved physically and technically and will be key players in the team during the World League this year.
"We're looking forward to competing in front of our fans for the first time this season," said Ueta.