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Japan beat Belgium in three sets; gunning for gold

Japan captain Saori Kimura lets fly against Belgium on Saturday
 Tokyo, Japan, August 23, 2014 – Japan beat Belgium 3-0 (26-24, 25-16, 25-15) on the fourth day of the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo on Saturday.

Key points:

Yukiko Ebata led Japan with 11 points, followed by Saori Kimura and Risa Shinnabe with 10 each; Belgium were led by Lise Van Hecke with 15 points. 

Japan had five service points to Belgium’s one.

It was the first ever World Grand Prix meeting between Japan and Belgium. 

Japan have appeared in all 22 editions of the World Grand Prix but have never finished in the top three. But they are guaranteed silver or gold in this tournament. 

Their previous best finish was fourth place in 1994, 1997 and 2013. 

Japan’s win was their eighth straight in the World Grand Prix, the first time they have managed this. 

They are the second team to win three or more consecutive Finals matches by a 3-0 scoreline in one season after Brazil in 2013 (five in a row). 

Belgium have lost all four of their Finals matches, winning only one set.

Belgium had an early advantage after an error by Japan on the first point and a well-placed shot by Helene Rousseaux. Japan drew level at 7-7 and got some good hits from Risa Shinnabe. Japan took the lead for the first time at 13-12 on successive aces by Saori Kimura and took a two-point lead for the first time at 16-14 on successive kills by Shinnabe. Belgium were fighting hard and spiking well and with Lise Van Hecke rediscovering her best form, Japan were having to work hard to keep up. It was very close in the latter stages of the set. Shinnabe earned a setpoint with a spike but then blew it by sending a serve into the net, tying the scores at 24-24. Captain Saori Kimura stepped up with two spikes to seal the set and put Japan 1-0 up. Van Hecke scored nine points in the set.

The battle continued to be intense at the start of the second set. A block by Nagaoka on Van Hecke gave Japan a 3-1 lead but that was soon wiped out by a block from Rousseaux on Nagaoka and a reception error by libero Yuko Sano. A wide shot from Van Hecke and good smashes from Shinnabe and Yukiko Ebata gave Japan an 8-5 lead at the first technical timeout. Two Belgian errors increased that to 10-5 before the Belgians fought back to 10-8 before a wild serve by Van Hecke put Japan back in the driving seat. Kana Ono hit a good kill followed by an unreturned serve to give Japan a five-point cushion at the second TTO. Belgium were in a rut and Japan took advantage with four quick points to stretch their lead to nine points. Belgium coach Gert Vande Broek called a timeout, but the set was already lost. Ebata fired in a couple of thunderbolts as Japan maintained their lead and Shinnabe finished off with a classy cross-court kill to put Japan 2-0 up.

Belgium again came out strong at the start of the third set but Japan managed to overturn a point on a video challenge – a net touch – and Ebata rounded of the first phase with a terrific thump to put Japan 8-6 up. Sloppy play allowed Belgium to level at 8-8, but then the Belgians responded in kind and allowed Japan to move into a 14-9 lead, when Vande Broek called a timeout. Van Hecke tried to reduce the deficit with a crosscourt smash and a nice tipover but a rocket from Nagaoka ensured Japan still had a five- point lead at the second TTO – and Japan had the upper hand from then on. Ebata made a terrific block on Van Hecke and Kimura came up with a big smash as Japan increased their lead. Mai Yamaguchi brought up matchpoint with a classy strike on the run and Van Hecke then slammed the ball into the net for Japan’s fourth straight victory.


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