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Koga gets Japan off the mark

 
 
Barueri, Brazil, May 17, 2018 - Sarina Koga weighed in with 22 points as Japan finally experienced that winning VNL feeling by seeing off a determined Germany 3-1 (25-21, 25-23, 21-25, 25-17) .



The NEC Red Rockets wing spiker was a constant threat for the Japanese who managed to put successive defeats to Serbia and Brazil behind them by sealing their first major world tournament triumph of 2018.

It wasn’t a perfect performance from the Asian champions who were pushed terrifically hard by a German team who refused to buckle under incessant pressure.

There were too many mistakes - especially on serve  - but their defense in particular was excellent with middle blockers Man Okumura (nine blocks) and Nana Iwasaka (five blocks) both impressive.

German hopes were, once again, led by Louisa Lippmann (18 points) and Maren Fromm (nine points) and although a comeback looked on the cards when they hauled a set back having gone 2-0, the mountain was too steep to climb.

Nevertheless, both sides will now enjoy four days off - and a fair bit of traveling - before the second phase begins next week safe in the knowledge their performances in Brazil have given their respective coaching teams plenty to work with as the VNL progresses.

Japan were desperate to end the first round of matches with a morale boosting win. Tough workouts against Brazil and Serbia ensured the Japanese headed into this clash with Germany with scars to bear following a testing few days in Sao Paulo.

Their opponents, however, were in fine fettle. Although that shock win over the hosts was the standout performance of the tournament so far, losing in straight sets to Serbia in their next game handed Felix Koslowski’s side a timely reality check.

It’s been two years since Germany suffered consecutive defeats at a world level major tournament and in a keenly contested opening set, it was the Europeans who managed to maintain the upper hand.

Yet their serve was letting them down with too many errors ensuring a build up of pressure was quickly defused.

And even with Lippmann producing the kind of form which undid Brazil, it was Japan, led by wing spiker Mari Horikawa who managed to steer the Asian champions into a 21-19 lead which was eventually converted into a first set advantage.

Germany needed to refocus or risk the tie drifting away from their grasp. Japan’s attempts to take a commanding two set lead were being undone by mistakes yet with wing spiker Koga proving a powerful force at the net, they remained 16-14 ahead.

The lead exchanged hands multiple times, Lippmann showing her worth once more before being pegged back by Japan.  An inability to hold serve, however, from both teams was costing them dear.

At 21-21, it was really anyone’s game. Koga’s finesse (the decision to tap over rather than spike with the score at 23-23 was to ultimately prove key) helped Kumi Nakada’s side move two sets to the good and on the brink of a vital first VNL triumph.

Koslowski’s team, who head to Korea for the next round of games while Japan travel home to Toyota, refused to be overawed by the task in hand and responded strongly in the third.

Lippmann and the tireless Maren Fromm were keeping the Europeans alive and at the halfway mark, Germany had established a 13-10 lead and this time, they were able to keep the pressure on.

With the score at 20-16, some brilliant defense by opposite spiker Lippmann put the Germans on the brink of sealing the first part of what would have been a remarkable comeback.

Japan’s energetic rearguard saved three set points to make it 24-21 but they couldn’t hold out for any longer as Germany edged back in at the end of an enthralling 34 minute set.

The fourth followed suit early on but Japan began to pull away and once a six point lead was established, the game was finally up.




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