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Bulgaria edges Japan in four-set thriller

The Bulgarian players celebrate during their victory over Japan on Saturday.

Tokyo, Japan, July 4, 2009 – Bulgaria overcame Japan 25-23, 23-25, 31-29, 28-26 in a pulsating World League match at Ariake Colosseum on Saturday.

Japan showed a massive improvement from last week's double loss to Cuba, particularly in defending, scoring two service points and nine blocks. Japan were led by Tatsuya Fukuzawa with 26 points, supported by the World League's leading scorer Kunihiro Shimizu. But Fukuzawa will be haunted by his woeful service game.

Bulgaria, who split a series against Russia last week, were led by Matey Kaziyski with 20 points, which included four service points.

Japan sprinted out of the blocks and streaked to a 5-1 lead as Bulgaria's spikers were slow getting into their rhythm, although it must be said that Japan's defense was in good early form. Also in good form was Fukuzawa, who planted four huge spikes in opposition territory and made a terrific block on Vladimir Nikolov. Nikolov returned the favor a few points later and Kaziyski landed a good service ace, but Japan were well worth their 8-6 lead at the first technical timeout. A couple of errors by the Bulgarians helped Japan increase their lead to 14-9, but then Japan got sloppy and allowed Bulgaria back into the set. Svetozar Ivanov scored three straight points – blocks on Kunihiro Shimizu and Yoshihiko Matsumoto and a quick-thinking tip over the net – and after a cracking thump by Metodi Ananiev, Bulgaria were level at 14-14. The teams matched each other to 17-17, when Fukuzawa netted a serve to give Bulgaria the lead. A spike and a block by Krasimir Gaydarski helped Bulgaria stretch that lead to three points at 21-18, but Japan were level three points later thanks to more errors by the Bulgarians, as well as some decent defending by the home side. At 22-22, a terrible setting mixup handed the lead back to Bulgaria and Kaziyski wrapped up the set with a great block on Fukuzawa and a final spike.

Bulgaria kept their tails up at the beginning of the second set with successive blocks on Kota Yamamura, but a long serve and a spike by Fukuzawa brought the Japanese back into the game. Shimizu landed a couple of spikes, but a long serve by Fukuzawa and an impressive block by Ananiev on Shimizu put the Bulgarians two points up at 6-4. The lead didn't last long, thanks to more Bulgarian errors and the two teams were matched to 12-12. Shimizu then netted a serve and Usami, who had been hit in the face by a thunderous spike from Ananiev, made a mess of a set and was withdrawn by coach Tatsuya Ueta. More Japanese errors and a block by Svetozar Ivanov saw the Bulgarians go five points clear at 18-13, but the Bulgarians were also making too many errors and Japan pulled back to within one at 18-17. The introduction by Ueta of the popular Yu Koshikawa boosted the crowd and his team. The 25-year-old made a fantastic block on Nikolov to bring Japan to within a point again at 21-20 and Japan drew level on a long spike by Miroslav Gradinarov. An error by Nikolov gave Japan a 23-22 lead, a setting error by Bulgarian captain Andrey Zhekov brought setpoint and Fukuzawa sent the fans wild with another megaspike, leveling the match at 1-1.

Things looked pretty even at the start of the third set. Nikolov landed a couple of decent blows and Kaziyski smacked an astonishing spike into the floor, but a good reaction block/tipover by Matsumoto, a great block by Usami's replacement Yuta Abe on Gaydarski, a receiving error by Ananiev and a sharp spike by Yuta Yoneyama saw Japan 8-5 ahead at the first TTO. Japan maintained their lead at 13-10 after good efforts from Tomimatsu and Matsumoto, but a netted serve by Shimizu, a netted spike by Matsumoto and another bad serve from Fukuzawa saw Bulgaria come back into the game, and they took the lead at 15-14 when Kaziyski's serve deflected over the net and away from the waiting Japanese players. Super spikes by Fukuzawa and Shimizu and a long spike by Bulgaria's Martin Penev leveled the scores at 18 and the scores were still even at 20, with Zhekov contributing a beautifully disguised tipover and Kaziyski another lethal spike. Nikolov drew the scores level at 22 with a hefty blow and a netted spike by Shimizu put the Bulgarians one point up. Ivanov blocked Shimizu to hand Bulgaria two setpoints, but Japan clawed their way back thanks to a spike by Shimizu and a fabulous block by Tomimatsu on Nikolov. Then it was down to nerves as Bulgaria kept bringing up setpoint and Japan kept their hopes alive with some spirited defense. But after Fukuzawa had netted yet another serve, the Bulgarians got lucky when Kaziyski again deflected a serve off the net and past Fukuzawa, handing the set to Bulgaria 31-29.

Japan fought back with a couple of nice short spikes from Matsumoto at the start of the fourth set, but a couple of Japan misses and a spike and a block by Nikolov put Bulgaria 8-6 up at the first TTO. Bulgaria stayed ahead to the second TTO, but they couldn't shake Japan off, with the two teams drawing level at 14-14 after a great block by Yoneyama on Nikolov and then again at 15 thanks to some good digging by Osamu Tanabe. They were level again at 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 with Bulgaria taking the intiative each time. Japan finally moved out in front at 22-21 when Bulgaria messed up their set and they stretched that to 23-21 when the otherwise impressive Kaziyski hit the ball into the net. But Nikolov spiked one point back and Hristo Tsvetanov made a great block on Fukuzawa to make it all square at 24-24. Shimizu's wide spike gave Bulgaria matchpoint, but the Japanese star redeemed himself on the next point with a sharp cross-court spike. Penev earned matchpoint at 25-24, but Yoneyama saved that. Penev earned another matchpoint, but Shimizu saved that. Finally, two blocks sealed the match for Bulgaria – Kaziyski on Shimizu and then Zhekov on Fukuzawa – with the final set ending 28-26 to the relief of the Bulgarians.



  

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