Tokyo, August 5, 2007: Two-time Grand Prix champions Cuba completed the first weekend of preliminary round action with a 3-2 victory over Japan at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday.
The recently-crowned Pan American Games champions recovered from 1-0 and 2-1 down to win 20-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-13 in 1 hour, 49 minutes and go 3-for-3 for the weekend. Japan dropped to 2-1, unable to give the crowd of 9,700 a third consecutive victory.
World No. 5 Cuba started ominously, with a deep ace from Zoila Barros on the very first point of the match.
But Japan, ranked just one place below Cuba, settled quickly into their attacking groove, receiving cleanly and setting up a sequence of fast and fluid patterns.
Araki and Shoji, up against the formidable Barros and Carrillo through the middle, both scored early confidence-boosting points at the net, and an Araki block on Carcaces helped Japan lead 8-4 at the first TTO.
The speed of the Japanese around the court seemed to surprise the Cubans, whose erratic serve reception in the absence of a specialist libero prevented them from finding their customary rhythm.
Still, in Calderon and Santos, the Cubans packed plenty of power, and they remained close but always chasing.
The Cuban block now began to function, and they had closed to within one point at the second TTO, 16-15 Japan.
Araki popped up on Japan's right to get round the block for 17-16, but Japan could not open a gap approaching the 20s.
Shoji scrambled another point at the net to keep Japan ahead, and Calderon pushed one into the net to give Japan a two-point cushion at 20-18, at which point Cuba called the first TO of the match. On the resumption, Calderon fired into the antenna, and Takahashi found a gap in the chaotic Cuban ground defence for 22-18.
Cuba called their second TO down 23-19, but could not improve their reception. An out-of-sorts Calderon put a service wide and handed the first set to Japan 25-20.
Cuba sent on a not fully-fit captain Yumillka Ruiz for the second set, but rival skipper Takeshita pulled off a sensational dig to keep her at bay.
Kurihara stepped up the pace in the second set, but tried to force it too much on one occasion and fired wildly for 7-7, following a furious exchange. Japan won the next point for 8-7 at the first TTO.
When Ramirez found a couple of gaps in the front court to move Cuba ahead 11-8, Shoichi Yanagimoto called his first TO, and Japan returned for Araki to punch another clean winner on the right.
The Cubans were now beginning to play like Cubans, and Carrillo stirred into life like a giant waking from a slumber. Down 15-9, Japan needed a second TO to stem the blue tide, but a nonchalant smash at the net from Carrillo carried Cuba into the second TTO with a 16-10 lead.
Japan proceeded to win the next four points, including a Kimura serve that struck the net cord and bounced in front of Santos diving forward. Cuba called a TO with their lead at 16-14.
Ruiz showed all her old magic with a searing spike on the left, Calderon squeezed one through for 24-18 and the lively Ramirez blocked Kimura for 25-18, 1-1.
Shoji was enjoying a breakout game for Japan, with a team-high 10 points in the first two sets and two more early in the third to help Japan into a 4-0 lead, when Cuba took a TO.
This gap grew to 7-0, due to poor Cuban passing, and Japan led 8-2 at the first TTO.
A booming serve from Carrillo and Ruiz spike brought Cuba closer, but they still lacked Japan's consistency. Ramirez, fired up as ever, and even more so by a call she thought had denied Cuba a point, blazed away on the right for another winner.
A Takahashi push-over caused more confusion in the Cuban defence, and coach Perdomo responded by removing Calderon and recalling Carcaces.
Shoji brought up the second TTO at 16-11, as Japan continued their effective probing of the Cuban front-court.
Kurihara then produced a cross-court winner from the left for 19-13, and the same player sent one down the left sideline for 20-14.
The Cubans had not given up on the set, though, and when Carrillo sent one scorching down the middle to close the gap to 20-17, Japan called a TO to get back on track.
Cuba needed a TO when falling behind 23-20, but Kurihara brought up set point by scattering the Cuban defence, and the same player closed the third frame 25-21 when her spike from the left fizzed through the block; 2-1 Japan.
The fourth frame quickly developed into a slug fest, with Cuba turning to Carrillo down the middle and Japan to Kurihara on the left.
The Cuban block was having great difficulty stopping Kurihara, who is back to her best form and capable of carrying the attack in all areas of play.
It was Cuba who enjoyed a two-point advantage, 8-6, at the first TTO, and a Barros ace made it 10-7 and sent Japan into a TO.
Japan had gone quiet as Cuba moved ahead 12-7. The back-court defence of Santos and improvisation of Ramirez had given Cuba some momentum, and Japan needed to come back quickly or face a tiebreak.
Carrillo won a net joust with Araki for 15-11, only for Cuba to stall again and Japan come back to within two at the second TTO, 16-14. Takahashi was using all her experience to keep Japan in touch, and Araki was giving as good as she got from Carrillo.
Kimura brought Japan to within one at 17-16 when putting a swift end to a scrappy passage of play, but Cuba forged ahead again to 20-17, prompting a Japan TO.
Carcaces brought the fourth set closer, Ramirez produced set point at 24-19, and then set up Santos to smash the winner, 25-20, 2-2.
In the fifth set, Cuba broke out 5-3 when libero Ortiz received Kurihara's strong serve and Santos struck again, and Santos set up Ramirez for 7-5.
Shoji continued to plunder points at the net, and a Kimura serve drifted in for 7-7. It needed a thundering spike from Carcaces on the left to give Cuba the lead, 8-7, at the turnaround.
Carcaces was proving to be the key figure, and rose again for 10-8. Ruiz made it 11-9, but Carrillo served into the net to leave her team just one point ahead.
A deep ace from Kurihara brought the scores level 11-11 and had the Colosseum shaking; Cuba took a TO.
The break disrupted Kurihara and she promptly served into the net, and the Cuban block then made it 13-11.
Japan pulled back to 13-13 with a block on Ruiz and no follow up from the Cuban defence, but Ramirez took control again to bring up match point 14-13. Carcaces finished the job quickly, pushing one over on the left for 15-13.