Korea earn ticket to volleyball quarterfinals with 3-2 win over Japan
The Korean women's volleyball team prevailed over Japan in a dramatic 3-2 victory in their fourth game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, played at the Ariake Arena on Saturday evening.
As the two teams' last match at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League in May had ended in a 3-0 romp in Japan's favor, Korea was out for revenge.
Japan, having achieved victory in that outing by successfully exploiting Korea's overreliance on superstar Kim Yeon-koung, was hoping for a repeat performance.
The match started off tense, with Korea taking the first set 25-19 then Japan taking the second with the exact same scoreline. The third was an even closer affair, but Korea managed to end it 25-22 and establish some crucial momentum.
Korea's game started breaking down at the start of the fourth set, however. Kim's exhaustion from spearheading Korea's attack for three straight sets was apparent, and the team's other attacking options could not reliably deliver in her stead.
When it became apparent Korea would not be able to overcome Japan's early five-point lead, head coach Stefano Lavarini made the call to quickly rotate all of the starters out, save Kim, to conserve their stamina for the fifth and final set. Japan took the fourth set 25-15.
Lavarini's choice proved to be the right one; Korea looked slightly rejuvenated at the beginning of the fifth set. Japan still was clearly the more energetic team, but Korea did their best to make up for it with grit, keeping the scoreline close. Critical to Korea's efforts were Park Jeong-ah's clutch blocks and spikes.
Japan had chances to close out the game when they were up 14-12, but Korea again rallied in the final minutes and forced a deuce. Japan looked visibly shaken after having victory snatched away from their fingertips, and Korea scored two straight points to complete the comeback.
Korea has a remaining preliminary round match against Serbia on Aug. 2, but with this win, their place in the quarterfinals has been secured.
BY JEON YOUNG-JAE [email@example.com]