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Japan Women Claim Silver Medal in the Volleyball Nations League

Italy outplayed Japan in the volleyball tourney final in Bangkok, while Japan earned its best-ever finish just weeks before the start of the Paris Games.

Italy accomplished its goal by collecting its second FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League title on Sunday night, June 23 in Bangkok. At the same time, silver medalist Japan completed its best-ever tournament, men's or women's, in the VNL, which was first held in 2018.

Italy overpowered Japan in the Thai capital, winning 25-17, 25-17, 21-25, 25-20 and hauling in another gold medal in the 16-nation tournament. In 2022, Italy captured the title in Ankara, where Japan placed seventh.

Japan also placed seventh in the 2023 tournament. In 2021, Japan was fourth.

To reach the VNL final for the first time, world No 7 Japan conquered top-ranked Brazil in a five-set thriller in the semifinals on Saturday. (Check out highlights from the match on YouTube.)

After Sunday's match, which started at 10:30 PM JST, Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe focused on what he felt were positive takeaways from the tournament for his team.

"I think it was a good experience for the players to qualify for the Paris Olympics and to reach the finals at this tournament," Manabe said, according to NHK.

The coach added, "I think the team members, especially captain [Sarina] Koga, have grown tremendously by working hard voluntarily and without losing focus."

Looking back on the tournament, Japan middle blocker Airi Miyabe said the overall experience was important for her and her teammates.

"I think we grew a lot as a team throughout this VNL and we have to be proud of that," Miyabe said, according to Volleyball World. "Winning our first VNL medal is something we have to be proud of, but there are some things we have to work on too."

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Winning formula: Italy had 12 blocks in the final and held Japan to two. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Key Statistics in the Volleyball Nations League Final 

Japan struggled to handle Italy's potent frontline. This was particularly evident in one key aspect of the match. Italy had 12 blocks to Japan's two. (Watch highlights of the final.)

A quartet of Team Italy players had two or more blocks: Paola Egonu (four), Sara Luisa Fahr (three) and Alessia Orro and Anna Danesi (two apiece). 

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Italy middle blocker Sara Luis Fahr dominates at the net against Japan, including three blocks in the title match. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Egonu, an opposite spiker, finished with a match-high 27 points, including 23 attack points. Myriam Sylla contributed 15 points and Alice Carlotta Degradi had 12.

Italy produced 66 attack points (aka kills) and Japan had 52.

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Japan's Mayu Ishikawa digs the ball against Italy in the Volleyball Nations League final. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD/via SANKEI)

Captain Sarina Koga, a 2020 Tokyo Olympian, led Japan with 17 points and Arisa Inoue chipped in with 11. Mayu Ishikawa and Nichika Yamada added six points apiece and Yukiko Wada finished with five.

Inoue had two big aces in the third set to help Japan extend the match to a fourth set. And teammate Ayaka Araki had a big block to put Japan on the cusp of winning the third set, leading 24-21 after the well-timed play.

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Japan captain Sarina Koga in action against Italy in the Volleyball Nations League final. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD/via SANKEI)

Koga Analyzes Japan's Performance

Despite the loss to Italy, it was a notable accomplishment for Japan to earn a runner-up finish, captain Koga said.

"Japan is a smaller team than other teams in terms of height, but I am really proud that we were able to make it to [the final]," Koga was quoted as saying by NHK.

In this lengthy tournament that started for Japan in the first round in Antalya, Turkey, on May 15, Koga and her teammates gained a greater sense of awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.

"Japan was able to play at a good pace in this tournament when serving was good," Koga said, according to NHK. "So we will use that as a strength and work toward higher accuracy and detail as we talk as a team and prepare for the Olympics.

"I would like to make our team stronger again so that we can compete with confidence."

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Manami Kojima (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

It's just a shoe!

Koga and Kojima Among Award Winners

In a post-match awards ceremony, Egonu was selected as the tournament MVP. She also took home the prestigious honor in 2022.

Koga, who was second in points (272) in the tournament, and Sylla were chosen as the best outside hitters. 

Japan's Manami Kojima was named the best libero, recognizing her contributions as a defensive specialist in the backcourt.

Also Sunday, Poland defeated Brazil in the third-place match, giving the European nation back-to-back bronze medals in the Women's Volleyball Nations League.

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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 X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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