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Improved Japan need to find killer instinct

Japan's Yuta Yoneyama plays the ball as Tatsuya Fukuzawa looks on during Saturday's game against Bulgaria.

Tokyo, Japan, July 4, 2009 – Japan goes into its last World League match against Bulgaria on Sunday knowing that their game has improved considerably following the two-match loss to Cuba last week, but also knowing that their form still wasn't good enough to beat Bulgaria, the third-ranked team in Pool C.

But they're getting very, very close.

Japan lost 25-23, 23-25, 31-29, 28-26 on Saturday in a match that saw their defending improve dramatically. But setter and captain Daisuke Usami had a rough day, getting hit in the face by a rocket spike from Metodi Ananiev and then taken out of the match by his coach Tatsuya Ueta.

“The way the game started was good, but the first set was the most important and the key to the whole game. But my mistakes caused us to lose the first set and that changed the balance of the whole match,” Usami confessed afterwards.

“I feel very sorry about it because I wasn't able to change the mood of the team. Now, I have to cool myself down and look to play better tomorrow.”

His replacement, Yuta Abe, certainly didn't disgrace himself, but Ueta said he faded as the match wore on and found it hard to combine with opposite Kunihiro Shimizu.

“That's why we lost our effectiveness,” Ueta stated.

Ueta accused his players of “self-destructing” and hinted that he would be looking at new players as the team prepares for the London Olympics in 2012. The players themselves are determined to do better.

“The players aren't satisfied with today's game,” Ueta noted. “We have to work on our mistakes and raise our level of play.”

Apart from Abe, Ueta spread some of the workload around his squad on Saturday, using Kazuki Maeda, Takaaki Tomimatsu and Yu Koshikawa with effect. Tomimatsu, Yuta Yoneyama and Abe each earned two blocking points.

On offense, Tatsuya Fukuzawa led Japan with 17 spikes from 39 attempts, while World League leading scorer Kunihiro Shimizu weighed in with 17 spikes from 34 attempts. Shimizu's serving improved significantly from last week's nightmare in Toyama; on Saturday, it was Fukuzawa's turn to experience serving problems, with many of his serves going long.

Japan coach Ueta may have been unhappy with his team's performance, but Bulgaria's Italian coach Silvano Prandi praised the Japan team while noting that his own team must get better – if only to maintain his health.

“The game today was very good for the fans because the result was always in the balance,” Prandi commented, adding: “But it was not good for my heart.”

“Life is hope and I hope tomorrow we play better than today.”

“Our main problem for me is always our attack. We have to improve our attack. Service, defense, blocking is always difficult because Japan's defense and reception is very good. And Japan were good in attack – they are fast and difficult to block.”

Prandi said his team's winning percentage in attack (44%) was unacceptable, although he was relatively pleased with his team's 16 blocks.

Vladimir Nikolov had 40 spike attempts for Bulgaria, but only managed to score on 17 of them. Matey Kaziyski did better, delivering some gigantic hits as he collected 14 spikes from 23 attempts, in addition to four service points.

But the Bulgarians made a lot of errors. Japan capitalized on many of them, but they are still finding it difficult to finish opponents off. Ueta wants them to find their killer instinct and their performance on Saturday might give them the confidence to attack with more conviction.

The Bulgarians meanwhile need to win to stay in contention in the World League.

“This is our main goal,” captain Andrey Zhekov noted. “Only if we win tomorrow can we play for first place in the group, so for us it's very important to win.”

But he realizes that it won't be easy.

“It was a very difficult game for us today and very close. We tried to press Japan from the start, but they played excellent defense. It was really difficult to play against such a good defense.”

“But the important thing is we didn't stop; we continued and we're very happy that we won this game.”

But he'll be much happier if he wins tomorrow.


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