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Japan dig deep to edge Bulgaria in five sets

Japan's Yu Koshikawa spikes against Hristo Tsvetanov (No. 2) and Vladimir Nikolov on Sunday

Tokyo, Japan, July 5, 2009 – Japan dug deep on Sunday to pick up their second win of the World League, edging Bulgaria 26-24, 13-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-13 at Ariake Colosseum.

Japan's only previous win in the tournament came in the away leg in Bulgaria. Bulgaria had won another close match on Saturday in four sets.

In Tokyo, the return of Yu Koshikawa had an invigorating effect on the Japan team and the home players were able to raise their game to the delight of the 4,100 fans in the stadium. Koshikawa was Japan's top scorer with 17 points, but one of the keys to Japan's game was a vastly improved defense that saw them pick up 14 blocks against the tall and powerful Bulgarians. Japan's setters also changed their combinations, which confused the Bulgarians and diluted their attack.

Bulgaria were led by Matey Kaziyski with 18 points and had 17 blocks against Japan, with Svetozar Ivanov collecting five of them.

Japan opened up a 3-0 lead to start off the match and showed some good defensive play early on, but Bulgaria kept the pressure on and drew level at 6-6. A spike by Tatsuya Fukuzawa and a block by Daisuke Usami gave Japan a one-point lead at the first technical timeout, but the teams were level again at 10, after which Japan moved ahead. Kunihiro Shimizu landed a decent spike, Vladimir Nikolov planted a spike wide and Shimizu punished a receiving error by the Bulgarians. The Japanese maintained their lead at the second TTO thanks to a brilliant quick pass from Usami and spike by Takaaki Tomimatsu, a superb improvised push shot from Yuta Yoneyama and a great block by Yoneyama on Nikolov. Fukuzawa and Shimizu pounded down a massive spike each and Japan were helped by a mis-hit from Kaziyski as they extended their lead to four points at 21-17. A long spike by Shimizu allowed Bulgaria to close the gap to two points, but a long serve by Tsvetan Sokolov kept things in Japan's favor. Sokolov redeemed himself with a crisp spike and Bulgaria drew level with blocks by Svetozar Ivanov and Martin Penev on Fukuzawa and Shimizu, respectively. Fukuzawa set up setpoint with a spike that was blocked wide, but Penev was able to save that. Japan's second setpoint came from a long serve by Ivanov and the set was capped with another error when Penev spiked long.

Bulgaria came out fighting in the second set and pulled away from 3-3 thanks to spikes by Krasimir Gaydarski and Sokolov, a wide spike by Fukuzawa and a clever push shot by Kaziyski. That saw Bulgaria five points ahead at the first TTO and it only got worse for Japan as they dropped nine out of 10 points. Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta replaced setter Usami with Yuta Abe, but Bulgaria were cruising as Japan struggled to do anything right. Consecutive netted serves by Kazuki Maeda and Tomimatsu saw Bulgaria nine points up at the second TTO and left Japan with an impossible hill to climb. Metodi Ananiev then landed some good spikes as Bulgaria stretched out to a 23-12 lead. A great block by Ananiev on Shimizu brought up setpoint at 24-12 and after a spike by Shimizu, a sloppy hit by Ivanov was enough to secure the set for Bulgaria.

Shimizu started off the third set with a power hit and Matsumoto had a great block on Gaydarski, but then things turned Bulgaria's way again. Shimizu was blocked twice and planted another spike wide, as did Fukuzawa. With the Bulgarians 8-5 up, Koshikawa came in for Shimizu and it didn't take him long to land a hefty spike. But Fukuzawa followed up with yet another long serve and Japan trailed 11-7. Matsumoto combined with Usami on two great short, quick hits and Fukuzawa landed a spike, but a crushing blow by Sokolov saw Bulgaria three points up at the second TTO. At 20-17, things turned in Japan's favor. Yoneyama drove a spike through the Bulgarian defense and Matsumoto made terrific blocks on Sokolov and Gaydarski, pulling the teams level at 20 (great serving by Koshikawa also boosted Japan). Yoneyama landed another defense-splitting spike, but a good effort by Nikolov and an error by Koshikawa saw Bulgaria two points ahead at 23-21. Japan couldn't block Kaziyski as he brought about setpoint and the Bulgarian then stopped a spike by Fukuzawa to clinch the third set 25-21.

Japan regained their form as the fourth set got under way, but Bulgaria kept things close. Shimizu started spiking well again, but Kaziyski responded in kind and the teams were level at 7-7. A terrific block by Shimizu put Japan up 8-7 at the first TTO and this turned into 9-7 when Kaziyski sent a shot long. Good spikes by Yoneyama and Koshikawa, a big block by Kota Yamamura on Kaziyski and an unreturned hit by Koshikawa stretched Japan's lead to 15-11, but Bulgaria fought back through Nikolov, despite some great digging by libero Osamu Tanabe. Another good hit by Koshikawa put Japan two points up at the second TTO and he repeated the trick to make the scores 17-14. Bulgaria closed the gap again with a spike by Ivanov and a block by Nikolov on Shimizu, but Koshikawa and Shimizu kept Japan in front with hard hits. Bulgaria kept the pressure on and drew within one point at 20-19. Yoneyama then hit a piledriver through the Bulgarian block and Usami superbly stopped a big hit by Kaziyski to put Japan 22-19 up. Japan earned three setpoints on the back of a gigantic blast from Shimizu, but a spike by Nikolov and an unstoppable serve by Kaziyski gave Bulgaria a ray of hope. But the big -serving Bulgarian overstepped the mark with his next serve, sending it long and the match into a fifth set.

Koshikawa didn't give Japan the start they wanted as his first serve hit the net, but Shimizu hit a rocket to even things up. A wide spike by Shimizu allowed Bulgaria to open up a two-point gap, but two great shots by Koshikawa (aided on one of them by a mega-dig by Yoneyama) saw Japan level at 5-5. Yamamura's spike from a short Usami pass brought the scores to 6-6 and Koshikawa reaped the benefit of a super serve by Usami to put Japan 7-6 up. Koshikawa hit another smash to put Japan 8-7 ahead, but Bulgaria drew level on a disputed call when it appeared Yamamura had blocked Penev. It then turned into nail-biting stuff as Bulgaria kept going ahead and Japan kept drawing level. Koshikawa finally gave Japan the lead at 13-12 but Ivanov pulled that one back. Nikolov then sent a cross-court shot wide and Japan had matchpoint. Nikolov tried a spike under pressure but his shot hit the net and Japan had their second win of the tournament.

  

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