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Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012

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Exhausting battle: Japan's women's volleyball team celebrates after beating China in the Olympic quarterfinals on Tuesday at Earls Court in London. Japan will compete in the semifinals for the first time since 1988. AFP-JIJI

Japan outlasts China in thrilling five-setter


Staff writer

LONDON — Poise. Patience. Persistence.

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Brilliant victory: Saori Kimura serves against China in their quarterfinal match on Tuesday at Earls Court. Japan won 3-2 and will play Brazil in the semifinals on Thursday night. AP

These were the three Ps — the keys — to victory for Japan in the London Olympics women's volleyball quarterfinals on Tuesday afternoon against China.

And all those traits shone brightly for Japan, with every point a vital ingredient in its recipe for success.

In a quality, entertaining match, Japan responded to every challenge from its taller foe, prevailing 28-26, 23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 18-16 at Earls Court.

"We coordinated really well and they (the players) worked really well together," Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe said. "Both teams were very nervous in the final set, but Japan had just a little bit more. The key point was that we made service points. Saori Kimura and Yukiko Ebata were key for us."

Kimura and Ebata both notched 33 points for Japan. Hui Ruoqi led China with 26 points in the 2-hour, 13-minute clash.

Japan outblocked China 11-10, with Ai Otomo and Erika Araki each having three apiece, while Ebata made two.

Here's a quick rundown on how tight the match was: Entering the decisive fifth game, Japan had attempted 47 spikes to China's 46. China held a 22-18 block attempt advantage at that point and Japan had 39 digs to China's 34.

China took a 3-1 lead at the start of Game 5 after Kimura's attack sailed wide right. Japan regrouped, using a spike from Risa Shinnabe (nine kills on the afternoon) to cut the deficit to one and grab a 5-3 lead moments later. And it was 6-4 after Otomo's perfect anticipation produced a block on a China attack.

Ma Yunwen pulled China within 7-6, drilling the ball past Japan's defense. China fell behind 8-6, but recovered to take a 10-9 lead as chants for both teams picked up in frequency and intensity from the crowd.

Otomo, a Sendai native, recorded her second block of the matinee match to tie the final game at 11-11. It was then knotted at 12-12, 13-13 and 14-14, with every shot fiercely contested. Both teams scrapped for positioning around the net and for any small advantage for the next sequence of plays.

"This knockout match is the first time we have had a difficult match (at the Olympics)," China coach Yu Juemin said. "We had a lot of pressure, we really wanted to win, so it caused a lot of problems."

But China, now 5-1 in Olympic matches versus Japan, still had its Asian rival on its heels, and Japan was forced to stave off two match points to avoid elimination, including turning a 15-14 hole into a tie game as Ebata produced a point on attack. Manabe's charges then turned a 16-15 deficit into a tie on one of Kimura's best cross-court spikes of the night.

From that point on, Japan stayed sharp and showed unity. For instance, setter Yoshie Takeshita clapped, offering encouragement to her teammates as they clung to a a 17-16 lead with the serve. Tokyo native Hitomi Nakamichi notched an ace to clinch the win for Japan, the tournament's fifth-ranked club.

Japan hadn't beaten China since 2001. This victory sends Japan into the semifinals Thursday night against reigning Olympic champion Brazil, which topped world champion Russia in another five-game quarterfinal. The other semifinal pairing pits the United States against South Korea.

Araki said Japan can only savor the victory for a short time because there's work to do to prepare for the semifinals.

"It will be for the medal," the Japan captain said with a smile. "We will use all our strategy and the work we have done over the last four years with the new team under the new coach."

Manabe said, "We had aimed for the quarterfinals. We will put our strengths together and climb up again."

China captain Wei Qiuyue broke down in tears after the match. Teammates tried to comfort her to no avail.

"For many of us, this is the last Olympic Games," Wei said. "The road to get here was not easy at all, and we had a lot of hope (that we could win) today.

"Even though we lost, we performed our best. Every single one of us did."

Japan showed confidence early on, getting the ball to Kimura and Ebata on the attack. Takeshita was the tone-setter, making excellent passes throughout the match. And Kimura's explosive shots were a challenge for China to defend against. She rifled one past China to close out the first game.

The next three games showcased both teams' talents and strengths. The margin between them was about as thin as a paper clip, forcing the crowd-pleasing showdown in Game 5.

With her teammates all filling their roles and stepping up to make big plays at different times in different ways, Kimura and Ebata, especially, were able to step up and attack and push their team past China.

"Kimura and Ebata made very efficient spikes at crucial points," Araki said. "I am very proud of all the team."

Kimura said the win brought her a feeling of satisfaction.

"I have been playing and practicing in training for 3½ years to win a medal, so to be on that stage is wonderful," Kimura said.

Kim stars in Korea win

AP

LONDON — Kim Yeon Koung scored 28 points and South Korea surprised Italy 3-1 Tuesday night to advance to an Olympic semifinal match against the U.S. women's volleyball team.

The top-ranked U.S. women swept the Dominican Republic in an earlier quarterfinal.

Fourth-ranked Italy, which was among the favorites heading into the games, came out strong but ultimately couldn't keep up with the quick No. 15 South Koreans, who won it 18-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-18.

The South Korean players linked arms and spun around in circles on the court to celebrate the victory.



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