Lausanne, Switzerland, August 4, 2019 - Two-time Olympic champions Brazil became the first team to claim a berth at the women's volleyball tournament of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, though only the long way round with an incredible 3-2 (25-22, 25-19, 23-25, 18-25, 15-10) over the Dominican Republic, Saturday in Uberlandia.
It was the first of the six qualification pools this weekend to wrap up. Five more spots for Tokyo 2020 will be decided on Sunday.
These are Sunday's deciding matches, each one of which will award the winner with one ticket to the the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games:
• China v Turkey
• Russia v Korea
• USA v Argentina
• Serbia v Poland
• Netherlands v Italy
This week's qualifying teams join Japan who were granted a spot at Tokyo 2020 by default as organisers.
The last five remaining berths, to make up the 12-team Olympic lineup, will be filled in January through qualification tournaments at continental level.
Brazil were seemingly cruising to a straight-set win over the 'Queens of the Caribbean' with a very solid and highly convincing performance in the first two sets. But it all fell apart after that, when the Dominican Republic upped their game for an amazing comeback to force a tie-break.
The South Americans, though, still found deep within them the power to step up when it counted most. Three aces in the first half of the tie-break (out of seven overall in the game) saw Brazil gain a lead that they kept until the end, when for match point setter Macris Carneiro served to force the Dominicans in giving back a free ball and Mara Leao put it away with an unstoppable quick spike from the middle.
With Gabi Guimaraes not as efficient and productive as in previous matches, it was Lorenne Teixeira who emerged Brazil's top scorer, on 22 points (four more than Gabi). In the end, captain Natalia Pereira, still not fully recovered from a previous injury, had nonetheless to step in from the latter part of the fourth set onwards and help Brazil hold off the Dominican Republic.
Tokyo 2020 will mark the 11th Olympic participation for Brazil's women since their first ever appearance in Moscow 1980. They have been present in every Olympic Games since that 1980 debut, picking up gold medals in Beijing 2008 and London 2012, follwing their two bronze in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
The Dominican Republic, who had been at the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Olympics, still have another shot at making Tokyo 2020, through the continental qualifiers for North & Central America and the Caribbean (NORCECA) in January.
In the other match of the closing day in Uberlandia, Yelyzaveta Samadova scored 13 points in leading Azerbaijan to a 3-0 (25-17, 25-14, 25-20) sweep of Cameroon.
But USA just by the skin of their teeth avoided being on the wrong end of the upset of the century. At home in Louisiana, they found themselves twice trailing Bulgaria 0-1 and 1-2 and on the brink of crashing out, before turning it around for a 3-2 (21-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10).
The two sides were tied at 9-9 in the tie-break when USA made a 5-0 run to reach match point with six to spare and Kelsey Robinson (who had been benched by coach Karch Kiraly in the first three sets but came on in the fourth to save the day) hit an unreturnable crosscourt spike on the hosts' first chance at the sideout.
Jordan Larson was top scorer of USA with 23 points, but it was Robinson who shone once she came on court, finishing on a 62% (8/13) attacking efficiency amd 10 points in total - the remainder from blocks.
Bulgaria produced an amazing perfromance, led by Elitsa Vasileva who scored 23 points and Miroslava Paskova who added 21, but just couldn't put the finishing touches to an otherwise exceptional run.
USA will still have to beat Argentina on the closing day at Bossier City to avoid any further complications and claim the ticket to Tokyo 2020.
Elsewhere on Saturday, defending Olympic champions China beat Germany 3-1 (25-22, 25-22, 21-25, 25-15) and Turkey downed the Czech Republic 3-1 (25-15, 25-22, 21-25, 25-17) to confirm their rendezvous on Sunday for one ticket to Tokyo 2020 from the Ningbo pool.
Neither of the winners were entirely convincing, but were probably keeping their energy for the deciding match, playing just well enough to claim the victories. But the performance of Turkey's Zehra Gunes really stood out, as she scored a match-high of 22 points, including five blocks and an astonishing 73% (16/22) attacking efficiency.
Russia and Korea also set themselves up for a head-to-head to decide one ticket to Tokyo 2020 from the pool in Kaliningrad.
The hosts shut out Canada 3-0 (25-13, 25-21, 25-22) to remain undefeated and on a perfect record, with Nataliya Goncharova once more top-scoring on 18 points. Korea are also undefeated ahead of Sunday's deciding match, following their 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 26-24) win over Mexico, led again by Kim Yeon Koung who bagged 11 points.
In another decider on Sunday at Wroclaw, reigning world champions Serbia meet Poland in after both remained undefeated.
Tijana Boskovic led Serbia again as they thumped Puerto Rico 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-16), scoring 18 points.
Poland, on the other hand, were pushed to their limits by Thailand, though managed to just scrape through for a 3-2 (25-23, 22-25, 26-28, 25-23, 15-11) win that keeps them undefeated. Malwina Smarzek's 30 points were just enough to seem them home, countering the 29 of Onuma Sittirak.
And in Catania, it'll be as predicted, Italy against the Netherlands on Sunday for one ticket to next year's Olympics.
The Dutch destroyed Kenya 3-0 (25-17, 25-10, 25-10), with coach Jamie Morrison resting his starters after the middle of the second set and sub Celeste Plak topping the scorers chart on 12 points.
Paola Egonu helped Italy follow suit, scoring 18 points in the hosts' 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-16) sweep of Belgium, with coach Davide Mazzanti sticking to his starting lineup throughout.
Quick links - Volleyball:
FIVB.com - Tokyo Volleyball Qualification
FIVB.com - Volleyball