Japan, Tokyo, May 14, 2016 - It is very difficult to draw too many conclusions after just one day of play at the women’s volleyball Olympic qualifiers in Tokyo, but both European teams were impressive and Japan looked to be well on track to qualify for a record-equalling 12th Olympics.
Japan were ruthless against Peru, shutting the South Americans out of the match after a close opening set 25-23, 25-10, 25-14.
With a capacity crowd at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on opening night, and likely to be turning up every night to cheer on their beloved volleyballers, it is hard to imagine how Japan could not be one of the four teams to qualify at the end of the week.
The Netherlands deserve to be one of the favourites at this event, after just missing out on direct qualification through Europe earlier this year.
While coach Giovanni Guidetti played down that favouritism in a pre-match news conference, there can be no denying their strength after they brushed aside Kazakhstan 25-12, 21-25, 25-14, 25-8.
Likewise Italy looked comfortable against Korea, another team who are expected to challenge for one of the four Olympic places up for grabs this week.
The Italians raced out to a 2-0 lead, dropped the third set, before finishing strongly to beat Korea 25-17, 25-20, 25-27, 25-18.
Thailand are the only team in Tokyo never to have been to the Olympics, but there is a feeling this could be their year.
A strong Thai media contingent has travelled to Japan, further underlining the sense of expectation, and the team did not disappoint on day one.
After two very even opening sets against the Dominican Republic, Thailand finished strongly to wrap up the match 26-24, 26-28, 25-16, 25-20.
The star players on day one included Lonneke Sloetjes of The Netherlands, who finished with 30 points, and Japan’s Miyu Nagaoka, who finished with 20 points.
With no easy matches this week in Japan, Sunday’s opening game between Italy and Thailand, and the afternoon contest between The Netherlands and Korea, could well paint a clearer picture of what can be expected this week.