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Brazil outlast Japan in epic five-set marathon semifinal in Tokyo

11/13/2010

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Brazilian players celebrate their impressive triumph against hosts Japan on Saturday

Tokyo, Japan, November 13, 2010 - In one of the greatest matches in volleyball history, Brazil came from two sets down to outlast Japan (22-25, 33-35, 25-22, 25-22 and 15-11) in a two-hour, 20 minute marathon semifinal in front of an ecstatic crowd of 12,000 at the 2010 FIVB Women's World Championship at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan on Saturday.

The threesome of Sheila, Natalia and Fabiana all finished with more than 20 points to lead the amazing victory. Sheila and Natalia registered 25 and 23 points respectively while captain Fabiana added 20 to the winning effort. Thaisa and Jaqueline each charted 12 points.

The Olympic champions were particularly effective at the net where they recorded 21 blocks including 6 and 5 from Sheila and Fabiana.

Japanese Yukiko Ebata and Saori Kimura compiled 29 and 25 points respectively while Ai Yamamoto tallied 11 points.

In the first set, top-ranked Brazil tried to silence a full-house crowd, with a powerful attack taking them to 3-1. Sheilla Castro netted a serve, Yoshie Takeshita set up Yukiko Ebata for a spike, and Japan ace Saori Kimura tied it at 4-all. Jaqueline Carvalho soared toward the net and smacked down a clean winner to tie it again at 5-5. Ai Yamamoto showed her own deceptive strength, and Takeshita's brilliant no look backward set fueled another Japanese winner for a 7-6 lead. With a boisterous crowd clapping “stick balloons" and chanting “Let's go Nippon", Yuko Sano made a great reflex save but Jaqueline skied above the net to slam down a winner to notch it at 7-7. Sensing Brazil's superiority in the air, Takeshita kept Brazil's taller frontline players off-balance by feeding Japanese spikers with quick sets in various directions. With both teams missing serves and showing nerves in a highly-anticipated match up, the score was tied throughout the middle of the set. Castro slammed home a winner to break a 17-all deadlock, but Fibiana was called on the net, and Yamamoto blocked her spike attempt. Castro's spike equalized for Brazil, and her save out-of-bounds kept Brazil in a rally that Japan won to go up 20-19. Yamamoto pummeled another winner from the right wing. Sheer hustle by Japan wasn't enough to win a point, and Jaqueline was called for stepping on the line, to give Japan a two point edge 22-20. Castro's spike a few feet from the net caught Japan off-balance to inch within a point. Japan's ace Saori Kimura needed a flurry of spikes to finally throw Brazil out of bounds to go up 23-21, despite an amazing save by Jaqueline, who snuck back deep to cover. After saving one set point, Brazil was whistled for touching the net. The Japanese crowd erupted in delirium, as Japan captured the set 25-22.

The second set was one of the greatest in volleyball history, with relentless ties and lead-changes, and unbreakable will to win on both sides. Castro's tip caught Japan off-guard to equalize at 3-3. Elevated by the crowd, Ebata crushed a spike to put Japan back in front 4-3. Normally a spiker, Saori made an incredible bump save deep in the backcourt, which Japan converted to go up 5-3. Fabiana caught Japan gambling and hit a winner into the vacated backcourt, for 5-4. Takeshita made a brilliant bump-set from a difficult position, and Ebata altered her attack with a careful placement into an open space for 7-6. Takeshita turned an errant bump into a reflex winner by ticking it over the net with her left hand for a 8-7 Japan edge. Thaisa tied it with a clean winner down the middle, and Ebata netted a spike, as Brazil charged ahead 11-8 on Jaqueline's block, forcing a time-out by Japan. The blocking wall of Saori and Ai Yamamoto stymied Jaqueline's attempt, and Saori nailed a spike down the middle to make it 12-10. With the crowd chanting her name, Saori served three points in a row, thanks to Kaori Inoue putting away an easy sitter, and Japan took a 13-12 lead. Trying to regain momentum, Brazil found Natalia open for a left-wing winner, but Takeshita set up an easy spike to give Japan 14-14. Castro tried to challenge four Japanese receivers stacked along the right side, but her serve went out, giving Japan a brief edge. Up 17-15, Natalia targeted a serve at Saori, but Japan responded with a winner to inch closer at 17-16. Saori tied it by pounding a spike off Fabiana's hands and out-of-bounds. Jaqueline soared to crush a spike straight down, while Saori's accuracy found a narrow gap deep, as both teams looked to their aces to save them in an incredibly tight match with no breathing room on other side. Brazil opened a two point lead, which Ebata whittled away with a soaring spike. Saori played an amazing point with a spike, save and a definitive winner, to equalize at 20-all, and then she hit a feathery winner into the right place cross-court to level the set at 21.

Unlike the power hitting of Brazilian spikers, Saori used her uncanny court vision to guide spikes into narrow gaps in Brazil's coverage, as Japan climbed ahead 22-21. Ebata thumped a winner from the left-wing to go up 23-22. Substitute Mizuho Ishida miscommunicated with her teammate and let a ball drop, deflating Japan for a moment, and Brazil pounced on them to go up 24-23. Ebata, though, bailed Ishida out with another left-wing winner, as Takeshita continued to use Saori as a decoy and feed Ebata instead. Yamamoto held off Brazil at set point, but after some strong defending, Saori missed a serve long over Brazil's towering blockers. With Brazil at set point twice, Takeshita went with her bread-and-butter Saori, who delivered two resounding blasts to tie it again at 26 and 27. Castro was too strong for Japan's backline, but Thaisa flubbed an easy set to give Japan a break and a 28-all tie. Sano couldn't save a Brazilian spike, but Ebata again hammered a ball off Brazilian blockers to level at 29.

With yet another setpoint, an over-anxious Castro served long, but Natalie saved her with a left-wing winner for another set point. In the best point of the match so far, Ebata soared for a winner to equalize at 31-31. With no respite from the supercharged intensity, Jaqueline soared above the court for a clean winner, but then missed a placement attempt to give Japan a set point. Thaisa kept the relentless drama going with an easy put-away to tie it at 33. Saori's spike gave Japan another set point. In one of the most memorable points ever for Japan, Sano saved a spike off her shoulder, Takeshita dug out another ball, and finally Saori clinched the set 35-33, as the Japanese crowd fell over themselves in amazement, as their team led two sets to none.

Even after a much-needed 10-minute break, the intensity did not let up in the third set, with ties all the way to 12-12, thanks to great hustle plays such as Fabi's incredible foot save. Instead of slamming a spike as usual, Castro placed a winner, and Brazil crept ahead 14-12. Japan's defense continued to anticipate Brazil's attacks, and Ebata and Yamamoto converted them into winners, giving Japan 15-14. Frustrated by Japan's defense, Natalia hit long, and Japan charged out front 16-14. During a time-out, Brazilian coach Ze Roberto seemingly changed strategy. Natalia finally found a hole in Japan's bulwark, and Sassa came off the bench to put Brazil even at 16-all. Castro's spike nicked the corner, and suddenly Brazil had momentum and a 17-16 lead. With Ze Roberto nodding in agreement at his team's tactics, Sassa again surprised Japan's defenders, and two deflections gave Brazil a two-point advantage at 20-18. A rare Japanese service miss made it 21-19, but Thaisa was called on the net, for 21-20. Brazil continued to look elsewhere for offense, and using Castro and Jaqueline as decoys, found blocker Fabiana for two spikes to go up 24-21. Ebata's winner held off a set point, but again Fabiana leapt into the role of spiker and crushed a winner to seize the set 25-22.

Teams traded blows early in the fourth set, until Fabiana's missed serve gave Japan a slight edge 5-4. Japan continued to attack through Ebata on the left wing, and Yamamoto's block elevated them to 11-9. Japan this time appeared ready for Fabiana, as Saori, lurking in the back, saved her spike. But Brazil continued to feed their captain Fabiana, and it paid off with a winner to level it at 11. With Japan rotating in expectation of her spike, Fabiana fooled them with a tip to put Brazil ahead 13-12. Japan countered with tactics of their own, as Takeshita repeatedly found Yamamoto open on the right flank, and Japan led 14-13. With Japan out of position, Natalia's blast tied it at 14. A weary Takeshita couldn't reach a carom off the net, and she rolled on the court gasping for air. Coming up huge for Brazil, Fabiana blocked Ebata for a point, and then hit a winner to put Brazil up 19-17.

Unforced errors continued to haunt Brazil, as Castro missed a serve. Ebata squared the set at 19, until a thunderous hit by Natalia showed why she has moved so quickly from the junior to senior national team. With the match 2 hours and 20 minutes old, both teams continued to slug it out, trading leads and altering tactics on the fly. Saori emerged to hit a winner, but Ishida came off the bench just long enough to launch a serve long to gift Brazil the lead 22-21 – an error which would cost Japan dearly in the set. Fabi and Sano exchanged amazing saves, as Japan leveled at 22. Sassa and Thaisa blocked Saori's spikes from both the left and the right to give Brazil two points and a 24-22 edge. At set point, Japan lunged for a ball that may have been going out, and Brazil held on to win 25-22 and even the match at two sets apiece.

In the deciding fifth set, Saori's deflected spike equalized for Japan at 2-2, but Yamaguchi and Takeshita couldn't dig out a loose ball off the net. Saori made a great block but hoisted a serve long. In a brilliant point, Takeshita chased down a ball far behind the touch line and bumped a perfect set to Ebata at the net, who punched it home for Japan to equalize at 4-4. Takeshita's reflexes saved another rally, which Brazil won at the net to go up 7-5. Castro's block sent her spinning in ecstacy, as Brazil surged to 8-5, their biggest lead of the match. She did the exact same thing, with the same twirling reaction, to extend it to 9-5. With Japan appearing to run out of steam, Natalia smacked home a spike to go 10-6. But Ebata answered for Japan, and Inoue's block shaved the lead down to 10-8. Castro soared for a spike to 11-8, and Natalia blasted another from the left wing for 12-8. Ebata couldn't dig out a ball out-of-bounds, and Japan appeared on the edge of defeat at 13-8. Saori kept their hopes alive with a spike to 13-9. But again, Natalia simply overpowered Japan's defense, to give Brazil match point at 14-9. Japan saved one match point, and then Brazil seemed ready to celebrate when Soari came out of nowhere to save a ball out of bounds and make it 15-11. But Fabiana finally ended a marathon match with a spike, giving Brazil a 15-11 set and the match, after 2 hours and 40 minutes of neck-and-neck play.
(FIVB)