Tokyo, Japan, May 17, 2016 - Korea has served Japan off the court to record an impressive 3-1 (28-26, 25-17, 17-25, 25-19) win, inflicting the home team’s first loss of the Olympic qualification tournament.
The big serve of the Koreans was the difference, with Japan struggling all night to deal with the power of Kim Hee-Jin in particular.
The opening set was everything the capacity crowd could have wished for, except for the final scoreline.
Ask a stadium full of raucous Japanese fans how they would like the first point of the match to end, and they would day a big block on a Kim Yeon-Koung spike. And that’s what they got, with Haruyo Shimamura bringing the crowd to its feet.
In the blink of an eye Japan was leading 7-2, with Yeon-Koung largely ineffective. But then the tall Korean, who many rate as one of the best players in the world, stepped up, and suddenly it was 10-10.
Miyu Nagaoka was proving particularly damaging for the home team, clocking up ten points in the opening set, while Yeon-Koung finished with eight for Korea.
But the real star for Korea in its 28-26 opening set win was Kim Hee-Jin, who’s service put the Japanese under enormous pressure.
It was Hee-Jin again who laid the foundations for Korea in the second set. In the space of four rocket serves, two which were aces, Hee-Jin helped Korea from 12-12 to a 16-12 lead.
It was the moment that turned the set, taking much of the sting out of the Japanese crowd and sending a wave of panic through the home side.
Careless mistakes followed, with the crowd groaning in disbelief. Their team was doing a good job of successfully shutting down Yeon-Koung (13 points), but it was being served off the court, with Korea taking the second 25-17.
Staring down the barrel at not only a loss, but a 3-0 loss, Japan coach Masayoshi swung the changes at the start of the third set.
He swapped his Liberos, benched Sarina Koga and Saori Kimura, and brought in Yuki Ishii and Yurie Nabeya – as it turned out, a masterstroke.
It was two deft touches by Haruka Misashita at the net that started the ball rolling for the home team, and then Ishii and Nabeya took over.
Ishii in particular was devastating, accumulating seven points for the set, including serving Japan to the brink of their convincing 25-17 set win.
Significantly the Japanese defenders were also managing to keep Yeon-Koung relatively quiet. The tall opposite had 15 points to the end of the third set.
It wasn’t to last for Japan, with Yeon-Koung flexing her muscles in the final set and picking up nine individual points to help Korea to a 25-19 set win and a 28-26, 25-17, 17-25, 25-19 win.
The final serving statistics were decisive, with Korea stringing together 11 aces to Japan’s three.
Japan will face a desperate Thailand on Wednesday night, while Korea will face off against the winless Kazakhstan.