The United States hauled themselves back from the brink of defeat to score an incredible 3-2 victory over Germany in their Pool F match on Sunday at the FIVB Volleyball World Championship for Women in Osaka.
The Americans, who looked second best for the most part of three sets, saved three straight match points to beat the Germans 25-27, 25-23, 19-25, 26-24, 15-11 and improve their win-loss record in Pool F to 3-4.
For Germany, it was another heartbreak after they fell to the Netherlands in similar fashion on Wednesday, having squandered a big fifth-set lead. This time, it was the fourth set where it all went wrong for the Germans.
Leading 9-2 and then 24-21, Germany allowed the never-say-die Americans back into the game to win the set on the first deuce. Mentally and physically drained, the Germans offered little resistance in the decider to give the Americans a famous victory.
Germany dropped to 3-4 in Pool F following their heroics in Sapporo last week when they defeated Olympic champions China in four sets.
The two evenly matched sides traded early blows with Cornelia Dumler's spike giving Germany a narrow 8-7 lead at the first time out. Both teams highlighted their key players with German captain Angelina Grun, Dumler and Christiane Furst assuming attacking roles while Heather Bown and Tayyiba Haneef patrolled the net for the US.
The US were then forced to come back from 15-11 down to level the set at 15-15 before Nancy Metcalf netted her serve to give Germany the advantage for the second time out.
From then on, there was only one point in it as the teams exchanged side-outs and the lead, with Germany edging ahead 23-22, having trailed since 16-17. Metcalf sent a backward dig out to give Germany set point but Haneef slammed a cross-court spike from the left to tie it at 24-all.
Germany finally snagged the set when Metcalf's spike from the left was successfully blocked. Grun emerged as the top German spiker from the first set with five winners while Haneef out-did her with six slams.
The Germans threatened to run away with the second set when they went 7-4 up on a series of American errors. However, the Germans were also prone to mistakes and were happy to go into the technical time out with an 8-7 advantage.
The US took a 14-12 lead in the second set following a winner from the left-handed Metcalf and a block on Birgit Thumm's attempted spike. It forced German coach Giovanni Guidetti to call time-out but the US were able to take a 16-13 lead into the second technical time out of the set.
Although the Germans were able to make it up to 16-17, United States had momentum on their side, pulling away to 19-16 thanks to some good work from Danielle Scott. American indecision allowed Germany to come back to 20-20 and then take 21-20 lead. In a topsy-turvy set, the US restored their lead at 23-21 but again the Germans fought back to 23-23.
However, the Americans were not to be denied and a fine block helped them take the set and level the match at 1-1. Haneef, Bown, Wilkins and Metcalf proved to be key players in the second set for the US while Dumler was emerging as the Germans' most effective weapon.
Lack of concentration in the American ranks helped Germany take the third-set initiative, motored as well by Dumler's outstanding form. From 8-4, Germany were able to maintain a comfortable buffer as they stretched their advantage to 13-8, mostly thanks to a misfiring US.
The Americans then went on a 6-2 run but Germany were still in the driving seat, at 16-13, in the second time out. By the time Germany held a 19-13 lead, the Americans were always facing an uphill task to get back on even terms.
Haneef was unable to make the most of her chances on the left wing and Germany won the set when Corina Ssuschke blocked an American spike attempt.
Whatever lessons to be learned from the third set, the United States failed to take them on board for the start of the fourth as a litany of errors, plus confident German spiking, took the Europeans to an 8-2 lead.
The United States, to their credit, refused to be humiliated and brought back respectability to the scoreline by tying it at 16-16, winning five points in a row.
The Germans woke up to the mini-crisis and went on a scoring spree, marked by Grun's fierce serving. Both teams were now playing at a high level with the United States not allowing Germany to pull away as they knotted the score yet again at 21-21.
With memories of the Dutch collapse possibly haunting Germany, they lifted their game to win the next three points but again the Americans came back, saving three match points, to force deuce.
Bown sent the American camp into ecstasy with the spike that levelled the score at two sets all.
The US raced into a 4-0 fifth-set lead before Thumm's spike brought Germany their first point. Such was Germany's desperation that Guidetti used up both his time-outs at 2-6 down. The fight had gone out of the Germans and at 14-11, it was the Americans turn to hold three match points.
Unlike the Germans, they didn't squander any as Metcalf's tip brought them victory.