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Japan Earns Bronze Medal in Men's Volleyball Nations League

In the Volleyball Nations League showdown in Poland, Japan's overall effort on offense and defense secured a victory over reigning world champion Italy.

Facing reigning world champion Italy, Japan jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third-place match of the FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League on Sunday, July 23.

Japan coach Philippe Blain's squad did not panic after dropping the next two sets as momentum shifted to Italy.

Instead, Japan's teamwork, talent and determination were interlocking defining characteristics of the decisive fifth set. Japan prevailed 25-18, 25-23, 17-25, 17-25, 15-9 in Gdansk, Poland.

The bronze medalist's impressive effort in the fifth set was a vivid snapshot of its overall performance in the 16-team Volleyball Nations League, which got underway on June 6. Japan finished with a 12-3 record in the tournament, which was held in seven host cities. It included preliminary rounds in Nagoya, as well as Orleans, France, and Pasay, Philippines, before the competition shifted to Poland.

Finals host Poland defeated the United States 25-23, 24-26, 25-18, 25-18 in Sunday's championship final.

Most notably, Japan earned its first medal at a major global competition since claiming the bronze at the 2009 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup, an event that was replaced by the Volleyball Nations League in 2018.

Before the 2009 competition, the Japan men's national team had experienced notable (and incremental) success in the 1960s and '70s on the global stage: a bronze at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, followed by a silver and a gold at the 1968 Mexico City Games and 1972 Munich Games. In addition, Japan was the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup runner-up in 1969 and 1977.

Volleyball Nations League
Japan's Akihiro Yamauchi vies for a point against Italy. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Upcoming Competitions for Japan

Now, the team known to its loyal fans as "Ryujin Nippon," which means the Japanese Dragon God, has raised expectations for more success in a pair of upcoming competitions.

In the coming days, Japan will begin preparations for the Asian Men's Volleyball Championship (August 18-26) in Tehran. 

And the 24-team FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup will be held in Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Xi'an, China, from September 30 to October 8. The top two finishers in each pool will automatically qualify for the tournament at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Japan was ninth in the 2019 World Cup. 

Volleyball Nations League
Japan's Yuki Ishikawa competes at the net against Italy's Yuri Romano (16) and Roberto Russo. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Key Moments in the Fifth Set Against Italy

Captain Yuki Ishikawa unleashed crisp back-to-back spikes to account for two important points, giving Japan a 4-2 lead with a bronze medal on the line.

In another key play, teammate Akihiro Yamauchi was in the right place at the right time and stuffed Italy's attack at the net. That extended Japan's lead to 6-3.

Moments later, Ran Takahashi followed with a thunderous kill to make it 10-4. With a chance to end the match, Ishikawa pounced on a scoring opportunity, smacking the ball into a small gap in the Italian defense. It was a read-and-react play that showcased the captain's keen court sense.

As the ball bounced, Japan's players celebrated joyously, exchanging high-fives and hugs. (Watch highlights of the Japan-Italy match on the Volleyball Nations League website.)

"We're so happy with this victory," Ishikawa gushed after the match, according to the Volleyball Nations League website. "I'm very proud of my team because we trusted each other the entire time, we're all very good teammates and I thanked them for that after the match."

Volleyball Nations League
Yuki Ishikawa (right) and Kento Miyaura are fired up after Japan scores a point. (FIVB/via KYODO)

Ishikawa added, "We played very well in the first two sets, but Italy [was] serving very tough after that and we had problems. It was a very difficult match for us, but we won it."

Not only did the victory give Japan positive closure at the tournament, it also raised the bar for this current squad.

Consider: Japan finished 12th at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship. Also, Japan placed fifth in the 2022 Volleyball Nations League.

Volleyball Nations League
Sunday's Volleyball Nations League third-place match in Gdansk, Poland. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

It's just a shoe!

Spirited Competition: Italy Versus Japan

Ishikawa scored the match's first point on an emphatic spike. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Teammate Kento Miyaura, a vital frontline player, closed out the first set by delivering his fourth service ace of the opening set.

In the second set, Italy led 14-13. But Japan kept it close before pulling ahead. A Miyaura kill pulled Japan within 16-15. The potent one-two combination of setter Masahiro Sekita and Ishikawa produced the set-winning point, with the captain hammering the ball over the net. Japan 25, Italy 22.

After back-to-back 25-17 wins for Italy in the third and fourth sets, the stage was set for the winner-take-all final set.

For the match, Ishikawa led all players with 21 points and Miyaura had 20, including seven aces. Takahashi contributed 12 points (11 attack points) and Yamauchi had 10 points (seven kills). Outside hitter Alessandro Michieletto paced Italy with 16 points (11 kills), followed by Yuri Romano with 15 (14 attack points).

Volleyball Nations League
Japan setter Masahiro Sekita in action against Italy. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Path to a Medal at the Volleyball Nations League

Japan defeated Slovenia 26-24, 25-18 and 25-22 in the quarterfinals on Thursday, July 20.

Two days later, world No 1 Poland prevailed 19-25, 28-26, 25-17, 25-21 to secure a spot in the final.

But Japan bounced back by beating Italy and moved from sixth to fifth in the updated world rankings, which were released on Monday, July 24.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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