Japan's Head Coach Shoichi Yanagimoto congratulates his players for clinching a ticket to Beijing
Tokyo, Japan, May 23, 2008 – It was the “perfect” day for Japan and Serbia on Friday, with both qualifying for the Beijing Games as they remained unbeaten in the Women’s World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tokyo.
World No. 7 Serbia got there first, qualifying for their first-ever Summer Games, with a 25-12, 25-18, 25-18 win over Puerto Rico before host Japan booked their ticket in the last match of the day at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium with a 25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 25-13 victory over Korea.
There are still two tickets up for grabs in the eight team round-robin tournament. The three best teams and the best Asian team (even if any of the best teams are Asian) qualify for the Olympic Games in August.
“(To book the ticket to Beijing) is a big goal for me and the team,” said Japanese spiker Megumi Kurihara. “I want to make the best use of it.”
Said Japan Head Coach Shoichi Yanagimoto: “Each player now can make their game at a critical point. That is the main factor in being able to qualify for the Olympics. We must practice more and try our best in the Olympic Games.”
With two matches remaining for each team, Serbia and Japan have collected 10 points from five matches. Poland follow closely with nine points, followed by Korea and Dominican Republic with seven, Thailand and Puerto Rico with six and Kazakhstan with five.
Along with Serbia and Japan, seven countries have booked their tickets to the Beijing Games through either the 2007 FIVB World Cup or Continental Qualification Tournaments. China qualifies for the Beijing Games automatically as host and will also be joined by Italy, Brazil, USA, Algeria, Cuba, Venezuela and Russia.
"This is the first time in the history of Women's Volleyball, in Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, to qualify for the Olympic Games, so we have made something really special," said Serbia Head Coach Zoran Terzic. "Of course we are very, very happy because of that."
Dominican Republic clinched an important victory in the first game Friday, storming past Kazakhstan in straight sets to improve their win-loss record to 2-3 and keeping alive their dreams to finish in the top three.
The Dominicans were just too strong for the Asian team and won 25-20, 25-22, 25-17 in a one-sided contest. Bethania De la Cruz, Cindy Rondon and Milagros Cabral from the Dominican team combined for 55 points.
“We can still keep our hopes of qualifying for the Olympics alive. We are getting better and better and we will, from now on, to try to reach our best,” said Dominican Head Coach Beato Miguel Cruz.
Kazakhstan are still waiting to celebrate their first win after five straight defeats, but they have not give up fighting.
“We still have two matches against our Asian rivals Korea and Thailand,” said Head Coach Viktor Zhuravlev. “If we clinch the same points as Korea, we still have a chance to get the ticket to Beijing.”
Just like the first match of the day, World Championship bronze medallists Serbia also romped to an easy straight-sets victory in the second match against Puerto Rico. The European powerhouses dropped Puerto Rico to 1-4 in the process with two matches to go. Serbia are scheduled to play against Poland and Japan, the two of the strongest teams at the tournament on May 24 and 25, respectively.
Poland stayed in the race for a place in Beijing after beating Thailand. Thailand, ranked 18th in the world, scared Polish Head Coach Marco Bonitta by taking the first set with thundering attacks. However, the fired-up Europeans stormed back to take the following three sets in the third match of the day. Poland won 18-25, 25-14, 25-19, 25-23 to improve their win-loss record to 4-1.
Poland have made a big step towards their final goal but still need one win in their two remaining matches to ensure a top three finish and a berth for Beijing. Poland faces Serbia on May 24 and Puerto Rico on May 25.
”We played two different matches, and in the first and fourth set we did not play,” said Bonitta. “It is very difficult to play against quick and fast teams. I am happy with the result but not with our performance.”
Japan booked the second of the four tickets on offer for the Beijing Olympic Games with a defeat of their regional rivals Korea in the last match of the day before a noisy crowd of 10,000 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The Japanese had won all the matches between the two Asian teams, including a 3-1 win over their regional rivals at the 2007 World Cup, after Korea beat Japan in the 2004 Athens Games.
Coming into the match with a win-loss record of 4-0, Japan made few mistakes. The host team rebounded to hold off the spirited Koreans after losing the third set and allowed their opponents to score only 13 points in the fourth, guaranteeing Japan a top three finish.
“I am so happy to qualify for the Olympics and from now on I must to try to do my best,” said Miyuki Takahashi agreed.
The loss was the third in a row for the Koreans, who dropped to 2-3 but still have a chance to qualify the Beijing Games by finishing as the best-ranked Asian team. The Koreans will meet Kazakhstan on Saturday before they conclude their tourney in Tokyo with a battle against Dominican Republic.
“The match with Kazakhstan tomorrow is a more important match and we are preparing for that,” said Korean Head Coach Jung-Chul Lee.
Day Four results:
Kazakhstan vs. Dominican Republic 0-3 (25-20, 25-22, 25-17)
Serbia vs. Puerto Rico 3-0 (25-12, 25-18, 25-18)
Poland vs. Thailand 3-1 (18-25, 25-14, 25-19, 25-23)
Japan vs. Korea 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 25-13)
Standings (two points for victory, one for loss):
Serbia and Japan: 10 points
Poland: 9 points
Korea and Dominican Republic: 7 points
Thailand and Puerto Rico: 6 points
Kazakhstan: 5 points
Schedule for May 24:
Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic
Serbia vs. Poland
Korea vs. Kazakhstan
Thailand vs. Japan