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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Japan Advances to Volleyball Nations League Final for the 1st Time

In a duel with Brazil, the Japan women triumphed in the semifinals to secure a spot against Italy in the volleyball tournament's title match in Bangkok.



Japan captain Sarina Koga spikes the ball during the 2024 FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League semifinal match against Brazil on June 22 in Bangkok. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD/via SANKEI)

Read the full story on SportsLook - [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Japan Advances to Volleyball Nations League Final for the 1st Time

Japan displayed resilience and made big plays in big moments against current world No 1 Brazil in the FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League semifinals on Saturday, June 22 in Bangkok.

Head coach Masayoshi Manabe's team, ranked seventh in the world, booked a spot in Sunday night's tournament final in the Thai capital with a hard-earned 26-24, 20-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12 victory.

As a result, Japan will play in the Women's Volleyball Nations League final for the first time. Up next: A Sunday night showdown against Italy in the title match.

The Japan women will earn their first medal in a major international competition since grabbing the silver medal at the 2014 FIVB World Grand Prix.

How did Japan get there?

Japan defeated China 25-21, 25-21, 25-22 in Thursday's quarterfinals to secure a spot against Brazil in the next round. Captain Sarina Koga notched a team-high 22 points and outside hitter Mayu Ishikawa had 21 to lead Japan.

Japan's Airi Miyabe (center) celebrates a point with her teammates during the FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League match against Brazil. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD/via SANKEI)

A day later, Yukiko Wada, a dynamic 22-year-old opposite, had a major influence on the outcome against Brazil, finishing with 21 points, including 20 kills. Koga added 18 points, Ishikawa had 16 and middle blocker Airi Miyabe chipped in with 11 points, including four blocks.

Ishikawa sealed the win with a kill in the fifth set. 

For Brazil, Gabriela Gumaraes was the top scorer with 21 points, including 20 attack points.

Captain Koga Reflects on Clash with Brazil and Looks Ahead to the Final

What was going through Koga's mind after Japan found a way to conquer Brazil?

"I'm relieved," she was quoted as saying by Daily Sports. "I was concentrating on my own, but we were able to do it as an organized team."

Koga added, "I respected our opponents as a strong team, but we scored spikes to overcome the wall and attack."

Surprising nobody, the veteran volleyball star admitted she's fired up about facing Italy in the final.

"I don't think you'll get a chance like that [to be the best in the world] in your lifetime," Koga said, according to the sports newspaper, "so I want to enjoy the game tomorrow."

Perspective from a Top Brazilian Volleyball Player

After the grueling back-and-forth semifinal match against Japan, Brazil middle blocker Ana Carolina Da Silva spoke to Volleyball World TV about how the match played out.

"Of course, it's hard to talk now. It's always difficult to play against Japan," Da Silva, commonly referred to as "Carol" to teammates and fans, said in the TV interview. "They defend a lot. We also do, but today I think our counterattack wasn't so good. Neither was our serve."

What else were keys to victory for Japan?

"They put in a lot of speed into their sets and their spikes, so we were struggling a little bit with the right positions," Da Silva said in the interview. "It was a hard game and now it is important to rest, because tomorrow we have another game and we have to be ready to fight again. Of course, it's very frustrating, because we wanted to win the tournament, but Japan did a great job."

Brazil took a 13-match win streak in this year's tournament into its showdown with Japan.

Outside hitter Mayu Ishikawa in action against Brazil. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD/via SANKEI)

Focusing on Improvement

After Japan's quarterfinal triumph over China, Miyabe discussed the significance of the experience and how it fit into the team's overall objectives in the Volleyball Nations League.

"We are just focusing on every single game and, hopefully, we keep winning in the tournament," Miyabe told reporters in Bangkok, according to Volleyball World. She added, "We could have played better early on in the game. But we fixed a lot of things towards the end of the game and that's why we did well today."

Tournament Information

The Volleyball Nations League was first held in 2018, and the Japan women appeared in the semifinals for the first time in 2021, placing fourth overall in Ankara. 

Past winners of the tournament: United States (2018, 2019, 2021), Italy (2022) and Turkey (2023). The tourney wasn't held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the first five editions of the Women's Volleyball Nations League, Japan finished 10th, ninth, fourth, seventh and seventh.

The 2024 tournament, which began on May 14, featured 16 national squads. 

Japan's Yukiko Wada competes at the net against Brazil's Julia Bergmann. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Preparation Time for Volleyball Squads

By all accounts, this tournament in an Olympic year provides an extensive test for the players and teams who have qualified teams as they prepare for the upcoming Olympic tournament. The 12-team women's event in Paris gets underway on July 27.

Head-to-head duels against teams who have similar world rankings helps coaches see how their teams match up. For instance, as of June 10, all four teams that appeared in the Women's Volleyball Nations League semifinals had the following spots in the world rankings: Brazil (second), Poland (third), Italy (fourth) and Japan (sixth).  

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven