Tokyo, Japan, August 21, 2009: Japan sprang a major surprise by beating the Netherlands 3-0 in the third match of the third day of the FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Friday evening.
The Dutch, who won the Grand Prix in 2007, were strong favourites, but went down 25-22, 25-18, 25-22 to an inspired home team.
The result meant that the Netherlands’ win-loss record dropped to 2-1, while Japan improved to 1-2 with two games remaining.
Maiko Sakashita top-scored with 18 points, including five service aces, and Saori Kimura added an impressive 12 points to help Japan to victory.
Japan, however, made another poor start, retreating into a TO down 4-0 after suffering under the Dutch block of Chaine Staelens and an ace from southpaw Maret Grothues. Japan did not get on the board until 5-1, and trailed 8-4 at the first TTO.
When Japan fell behind 12-7 and took their second TO, coach Masayoshi Manabe replaced captain Erika Araki with Yuki Shoji and she immediately made her mark on the right flank. With Saori Kimura and Maiko Sakashita settling into a smooth attacking rhythm, Japan caught up at 15-15.
Japan had managed to douse all the Netherlands’ early fire and had six set points at 24-18, eventually finishing it 25-22 with a Sakashita smash that had Flier running into the officials’ table trying to save her team. Sakashita recorded seven points in the opening frame, including three serves.
Sakashita drove Japan forward at the start of the second set, scoring on spike, block and serve, while Shoji also served an ace and Kaori Inoue added to her tally with a sharp spike at the net. Japan led 8-4 at the first TTO.
The Dutch needed to improve their defence, and Debby Stam came on to block Shoji and Chaine Staelens got the better of Kimura again in a head-to-head.
In attack, a Manon Flier special up the right silenced the crowd with its beauty and velocity, and the Dutch were back in it at the second TTO, trailing by only two points at 16-14.
Seeking inspiration, Japan found it through Kimura. Showing all her awareness and improvisation skills, Kimura pierced the Dutch court four times in a row to lift Japan from 19-16 to 23-16, and then brought up seven set points at 24-17. Sakashita finished it 25-18 for 2-0 with her game-high 14th point, including five aces.
In the third set, Japan led 8-7 at the first TTO and moved to 11-7, at which point the Dutch called a TO. The blocking of Inoue and Kurihara, plus a serve from Shoji, had given Japan the impetus to break away, but the Dutch were far from finished.
Kim Staelens blocked Kimura and Chaine Staelens served an ace to close the gap to 15-14, before Sakashita’s back-court swoop gave Japan a two-point lead at the second TTO.
The Dutch took a TO on losing three straight points from 16-16, including a Kimura ace. When the players returned, Kimura gave them the same treatment for 20-16.
Japan had four match points at 24-20, but called a TO on missing the first two of them. When Chaine Staelens served wide it was all over, 25-22, 3-0 Japan.