Japan (JPN) vs. Türkiye (TUR) men - Pool B #7237170

Japan’s Yuki Ishikawa, Yuji Nishida and Ran Takahashi

Hosts Japan had a very difficult start in Pool B of the men’s FIVB Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifiers, but after the day off on Monday they seemed to have overcome the ‘third set syndrome’, which had turned them from one of the favourites in the pool to a team struggling to live up to the expectations. However, the games against the strongest opponents are yet to come and the big stars of Ryujin Nippon are well aware that they need to approach them with the right mindset, if they want to emerge with one of the two Olympic tickets from Tokyo to Paris.

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Last Saturday, Japan stormed the tournament by emphatically winning the first two sets (25-17, 25-15) of their opening game against Finland, the lowest ranked team in the pool. However, they failed to keep up that pace in the third set and allowed the Europeans to come back in the game, level the score and push the match to a tie-breaker. In the end, the home team took the victory, but had already lost a point in a match, in which they had been considered heavy favourites.

The next day, the story repeated, but without the happy end. Japan hammered out 25-14 and 25-10 wins in the first two sets against Egypt, the next lowest ranked team in the pool, but once again they turned the off switch in the third set and this time the Africans took full advantage of it to celebrate a comeback to a 3-2 victory.

“The first matches were tough, because we found it difficult to keep up our motivation in the third sets,” Japan’s 22-year-old star outside hitter Ran Takahashi told Volleyball World.

But that changed in the next two games. Japan hammered out convincing 3-0 shutouts of Tunisia and Türkiye to stay in contention for the Olympic tickets. And in each of these games, they kept just as tightly in control of the third set, as they did in the first two.

“We lost the second game, but we talked about it a lot. It was important to make a change in our minds,” said outside and captain Yuki Ishikawa.

It is the second rest day in Tokyo. As Japan are getting ready for the last three match days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they stand fourth in the current pool table, with Serbia just above them on set ratio, and undefeated Slovenia and United States further up in second and first place, respectively.

Luckily or not, these are Japan’s next three opponents, in that order.

“Our opponents in the last three matches, Serbia, Slovenia and USA, are very strong teams, so we have to stay focused all the time,” Ishikawa pointed out.

“We have to approach the last three matches with the right mindset. I think the most important thing is the third set as it can make the difference between winning and losing,” Takahashi added. “Our next rivals, Serbia, are a tall and powerful team, so it won't be an easy opponent to beat. I think once we get this far, we just have to believe in our game and do what we've been doing. We have no choice, but to win.”