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FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2006
Match Description
Azerbaijan edge United States in five-setter

Azerbaijan players celebrate victory over the United States

Azerbaijan had always known about the winning formula. It was merely a case of making use of it against the big teams.

The east Europeans finally clicked to score a morale-boosting but nervy 3-2 victory over the United States for their first victory in Pool F of the FIVB Volleyball World Championship for Women in Osaka.

Their 25-19, 16-25, 25-22, 25-27, 15-13 victory over a strong American outfit, after squandering six match points, gave them a 1-4 record in Pool F, which includes their 0-3 record against fellow Pool B qualifiers from Sapporo.

In Natalya Mammadova, Yelena Shabovta, Oksana Mammadyarova and libero Valeriya Korotenko, they have some of the most talented players in the tournament.

And on Thursday, the individuals finally gelled as a team to raise their hopes of finishing in the top 10.

Defeat probably spells the end of the United States' title hopes after they lost to China in their opening Pool F match on Wednesday. They previously lost to Brazil in Pool C in Kobe.

In one of their best starts in the tournament, leading spiker Mammadova contributed four spikes as Azerbaijan took an 8-2 first set lead.

The Americans tried to trim the deficit but when they pulled to within 9-6, Azerbaijan went on another surge on some fine spikes by Inessa Korkmaz to take a 16-11 advantage into the second time-out.

Katherine Wilkins and the two-metre Tayyiba Haneef were dangerous for the US but were getting precious little feed.

Only when Azerbaijan went 18-13 up did the Americans respond, with Heather Bown helping them come back to 20-19.

Azerbaijan soon found themselves one set up against the stunned Americans when a US spike attempt went long.

The United States hit back immediately, sweeping to a 8-4 second set lead with Bown in dominant form and the Azer defence unable to deal with the pressure.

With captain Robyn Ah Mow-Santos calling the shots, Bown and Nancy Metcalf sent down some sizzling winners as the US stormed to a 16-10 lead.

There was no coming back for Azerbaijan in this set as the United States levelled the match when their opponents committed a net foul on set point.

Azerbaijan could have been encouraged by the form of Korkmaz, who was a threat on the left and offered valuable assistance for Mammadova.

Together with Shabovta, the trio can take on any defence when in top form.

Haneef had two crucial spikes to stop Azerbaijan from getting off to a big lead in the third set. From 6-3 down, the east Europeans were pinned back to 8-7 at the first time out.

But Azerbaijan had suddenly rediscovered their first-set form, with Mammadova, Mammadyarova and Korkmaz giving them a 16-11 buffer.

Wilkins wasn't about to let them get too far ahead as the Americans closed to within 23-21 from 22-16 down.

But Mammadova's clean smash from the left halted the American comeback to give her team a 2-1 lead.

The fourth set featured an amazing change of fortunes.

Korotenko proved herself to be one of the best liberos in the competition with stunning defensive saves and strong setting to help Azerbaijan take an 8-5 fourth-set lead.

The United States were hardly in the game at this stage, forcing coach Lang Ping to use up her time-outs at 11-5 down.

But when it appeared Azerbaijan had the Americans' measure, the never-say-die United States staged a breathtaking fightback, battling back from 21-14 and saving two match points to level it at 24-24.

The Azerbaijanis could only watch helplessly as the US took the set 27-25 to level the match again.

With their heads down, confusion reigned in the Azerbaijan ranks as the US went 4-1 up before Garayev called time out.

Mammadova then ravaged the American right flank with three straight spikes to bring her team back to 5-5.

The teams were practically trading points on serve as Azerbaijan edged ahead 13-11 before setting up match point and then watching Wilkins mess up her serve.