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Japan have to work hard to down dogged Dominicans 3-1

The scene at Park Arena Komaki on Sunday
 Komaki, Japan, August 14, 2011 – Japan had to work very hard to overcome a dogged Dominican Republic team 3-1 (25-22, 26-24, 23-25, 25-20) in a Pool H match of the 2011 FIVB World Grand Prix at Park Arena Komaki on Sunday.

Japan were led by Saori Kimura with 21 points, followed by Saori Sakoda with 14 and Ai Yamamoto with 13. The Dominican Republic's top scorer was Prisilla Rivera with 21 points followed by Bethania de la Cruz with 17. The Dominicans outblocked Japan 11-1.

Both teams got into the swing of things from the start of the match with Sakoda sending down an absolute piledriver early on. But Dominican captain Milagros Cabral responded with two beautiful drives down the left line to help her team lead by a point at the first technical timeout. Japan setter Yoshie Takeshita was in imperious form, creating chances where none existed and her teammates started to take advantage of her skill to open up a little daylight before the second TTO, with Sakoda earning a point from a delicate tipover and Kimura slamming a couple of big hits down the middle. Japan stretched their two-point advantage at the TTO to three points at 20-17, but coach Masayoshi Manabe was forced to call a timeout when the Dominicans pulled back to within a point. A Sakoda spike gave Japan three setpoints, which they converted with a neat fake by Erika Araki and a smack down the middle by Maiko Kano.

The second set started much as the first, but three Japan errors allowed the Dominican Republic to take a two-point lead at the first TTO. More Takeshita magic helped Japan tighten up and two Dominican errors meant Japan were two points up at the second TTO. The Dominicans scored four straight points from 15-18 and suddenly Japan were looking less assured. When they pulled two points ahead at 21-19, Manabe called a timeout. A lovely spike by Yamamoto put Japan back on track, while three thumping shots by Rivera kept the Dominicans in the mix. It was all-square at 22, 23 and 24 when a shot by de la Cruz went wide. Kimura then sent her second successive bomb through the Dominican defence to put Japan 2-0 up. 

Japan took a two-point lead at the first TTO in the third set, but the Dominicans continued to make their opponents earn their points and fought back to level the scores. A stunning save by Takeshita brought the scores to 10-10, but Cindy Rondon then set the Dominicans on a three-point run. Back came Japan and then it was a seesaw game again. The Dominican Republic edged ahead at 19-17 but coach Marcos Kwiek had to call his players off court when they dropped the next three points, two on errors. Sloppy play by Japan and a massive hit by De la Cruz put the Dominicans  ahead for good at 22-21 and they were able to clinch the set thanks to two good strikes by Rivera.

Cindy Rondon got the Dominicans off to a good start in the fourth set, supported well by the big-hitting Rivera, but Kimura responded with three cracking smacks for Japan and the home side were a point up at the first TTO. But there was nothing between the two teams. When Japan went 17-13 up, it was the first time in the entire match that either side had been more than three points ahead. A rare Japanese block – Kimura on Rivera – stretched Japan's lead to five points and that seemed to knock the confidence out of the Dominicans. A netted serve by De la Cruz gave Japan matchpoint and Yamamoto finished things off with a hearty spike. 

  

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