Tokyo, Japan, June 8, 2008 - Athens 2004 Olympic silver medalists Italy triumphed over Argentina 3-2 on Sunday to earn their ninth straight Olympic berth at the FIVB Men’s World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tokyo. The Italians battled hard to overcome the brave South Americans in a marathon five-setter and ended the tournament as unbeaten leaders after seven tough matches. The “Azzurri” will head to Beijing along with Japan, who return to the Olympic Games after a 16-year absence after claiming the ticket as the best Asian team. The Japanese team closed the event with a victory over Algeria in straight sets at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Italy, three-time World Champion and eight-time FIVB World League gold medalists have attended every Olympic Games from 1976 onwards. The best Olympic performance of the Italian team was at Athens 2004 and Atlanta 1996 where they won the silver medals, taking the bronze at Sydney 2000 and Los Angeles 1984. In the last Games in Athens, Italy lost 3-1 the final match for the gold medal against Brazil.
Japan earned their eighth Olympic ticket on Saturday by finishing as the best Asian team, after a dramatic victory over Argentina 3-2. The Japanese have managed to participate in seven Olympic Volleyball Games since 1964 in Tokyo, the city where Olympic Volleyball started. Japan won the gold medal in the Munich Games in 1972, and also claimed the silver medal at Mexico 1968 and bronze at Tokyo 1964.
The 12 Men's teams who booked their Olympic berths either through the 2007 World Cup, the Continental Qualification Tournaments or the World Olympic Qualification Tournaments are Brazil (first place World Cup), Russia (second place World Cup), Bulgaria (third place World Cup), Egypt (Africa), Japan (Asia), Serbia (Europe), USA (NORCECA), Venezuela (South America), Germany (WOQT Dusseldorf), Poland (WOQT Espinho), Italy (WOQT Tokyo) and China (host country). They are going to compete from August 9 to 24, 2008, in Beijing for the Olympic Games' medals and the glory.
Italy completed the Men's World Olympic Qualification Tournament with a 3-2 victory over Argentina to take top spot and a ticket for Beijing. In an exciting contest, Italy won 25-19, 25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 15-5 to finish with a perfect 7-0 win-loss record. The Argentines put up a great fight during the entire event but ended at 4-3. Argentina's hopes of qualifying for Beijing had ended and they had nothing to lose, gaving Italy a hard match. What started as an Italian cruise in the first two sets, in the third and fourth became a battle as the courageous South Americans tied the action 2-2, forcing the Europeans to lift their level in the tiebreak. The man of the match was Italian Alessandro Fei with 23 points. For Argentina, Lucas Ocampo produced 18.
“This tournament was very well organized, fantastic!” said Italian player Alessandro Fei. “Today's match, in the first and second sets we could play well, but after that we were too relaxed and lost the third and fourth sets. In the tiebreak we regained our strong mentality and could win this important match. The Olympics is a very important tournament so we have to strengthen our team so that we can compete against teams such as Brazil."
“First of all I want to congratulate Italy," stated Argentine Head Coach Jon Uriarte. “It was an important game for us. We came here to get a ticket for the Olympics, but we found there is no possibility for us to be qualified. The players are young, and sometimes we were faced with problems. In this game we could get together and use the chances. Italy was a strong rival for us. Of course we have the future so all we can say now is we can continue our play."
Japan, meanwhile, completed a memorable week by sweeping Algeria 3-0. A day after booking their ticket to Beijing, the hosts celebrated amid a party atmosphere with a 25-20, 25-13, 25-18 victory over the African outsiders. Japan, ranked 12th in the world, had too much speed and experience for the 60th-ranked Algeria, and ended the week with a proud 6-1 win-loss record. Algeria dropped to 2-5 but left a good impression with their sparkling attacks and expertise in the centre. Best scorer of the match was Algerian Mohamed Chikhi.
Head Coach Tatsuya Ueta said: “Today we could show our young, powerful players such as Shimizu, Fukuzawa and Gottsu (Ishijima). We have to increase the power of the younger players for the Beijing Olympics. Through these tough matches we have been really inspired by the spectators. The players selected for Beijing will make new history."
In the first match of the day, Korea ended the Men's World Olympic Qualification Tournament on a high note with a fourth straight win, beating Thailand 3-1. The 16th-ranked Koreans held off the 28th-ranked Thais 25-18, 20-25, 25-18, 25-21 to finish with a 4-3 win-loss record. Thailand dropped to 0-7, but had the satisfaction of winning their second set of the tournament. Best scorer was Thailand's Wanchai Tabwises with 20 points.
At the end of the clash, Thailand’s Head Coach Monchai Supajirakul said: “Today was the last game, so we could play relaxed. The players played very well, so I was very satisfied. We could gain experience from this tournament and could find our own problems we have to resolve. When we go back to Thailand we must put all our efforts into making our own team and drive towards raising our level in Asia."
Later, Iran swept Asian champions Australia 3-0 (25-18, 25-16, 25-23) to end the event with a 2-5 win-loss record. Australia, ranked 11th in the world compared to Iran's 26th, finished a disappointing campaign at 3-4. Zarini Hamzeh scored 18 points as the best man of the match, while “Aussie” Nathan Roberts scored 13 for Australia.
Iranian Head Coach Zoran Gajic said: “I felt the players could play better with each day and each match. They developed their skills. I also felt the players' lack of experience, for example against world-level teams such as Italy. We learned many things in this tournament. The OQT has been a precious experience for us. I think Italy and Japan will get the tickets for Beijing, and they are good representatives from this tournament."
Japanese Takahiro Yamamoto ended as the Best Scorer of the Tournament with 130 points, followed by Thailand’s Wanchai Tabwises with 112 and Iranian Mohammad Kazem with 105.
Regarding individual skills, Italian Alessandro Fei ended as best spiker, Iranian Mohammad Mousavi as best blocker, Japanese Takahiro Yamamoto as best server, Japanese Katsutoshi Tsumagari as best digger, Iranian Saeid Marouf as best setter, Korean Suk Jin-Wook as best receiver and Korean Yeo Oh-Hyun as best libero.
Statistics, interviews and high resolution photos of the tournament are online at www.fivb.org
Seventh Day Results:
Korea - Thailand 3-1 (25-18, 20-25, 25-18, 25-21)
Iran - Australia 3-0 (25-18, 25-16, 25-23)
Italy - Argentina 3-2 (25-19, 25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 15-5)
Japan - Algeria 3-0 (25-20, 25-13, 25-18)
Final standings: (two points for victory, one for loss)
1. Italy 14 points, 2. Japan 13 points, 3. Korea 11 points, 4. Argentina 11 points, 5. Australia 10 points, 6. Iran 9 points, 7. Algeria 9 points, 8. Thailand 7 points