Rob Andrew Dongiapon

Japan and Italy, two of the sport’s powerhouses, kicked off the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) Manila leg in rousing fashion, bagging all-important wins over their contemporaries inside the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Tuesday night.

Photo Courtesy of FIVB Volleyball World League

The world-ranked No. 6 Japan escaped the upset pursuits of China in five thrilling sets, 24-26, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 15-12, in the night’s capper, which put the frenzied Filipino crowd in further gush.

After a 5-5 stalemate in the deciding set, Japan rode a 3-0 blast courtesy of a back row attack by Yuki Ishikawa, a service ace by Kento Miyaura, and a hit by Ran Takahashi to hold the three-point lead for good.

China’s errors did not help their upset-seeking cause down the stretch too, allowing the Japanese squad to fend off their last gasps and keep their slate clean at 9-0.

Entering the game with only two wins, China proved to be a tall order for the Japanese, both figuratively and literally as the Chinese squad dominated the blocking department, 17-5.

However, Japan turned to their ingenious sets to plow through the opposing defense and cut the Chinese down to size with their attack game.

Team captain Yuki Ishikawa led Japan with 19 points off 16 kills, while Kento Miyaura backed him up with 15 markers as they feasted on setter Masahiro Sekita’s 27 excellent sets.

Miyaura emerged as the key spiker off the bench with timely attacks in the fourth and fifth sets to help Japan avert disaster.

“I am happy that we won this game. We had a difficult time as we lost the first set. So, we had to change our mindset. For me, I just focused on how I play and how to score points,” said Miyaura after the matchup.

Crowd-favorite Ran Takahashi finished with 14 points, while Yuji Nishida got 12 for Japan.

Zhang Jingyin put China on his back, unloading 21 points off 17 attacks, but it fell short in the end as they face elimination from the 16-team contingents.

A Gentleman's Sweep

On the other hand, Italy opened the day’s festivities with a victory over Brazil in a four-set gentleman’s sweep, 23-25, 25-20, 25-15, 25-21, to snag its sixth win in nine games.

The win gave the Italians a share of the fourth spot, mirroring Brazil’s win-loss slate in the preliminaries where only the top eight will advance in the final round.

The World No. 3 Italy leaned on the balance efforts of Yuri Romano, who racked up 20 points on 16 hits and four aces, Allesandro Michieletto’s 17, Gianluca Galassi’s 12, and Daniele Lavia’s 10, which included the game-winning ace in the final set.

After escaping a tight first-set, Brazil ran through a wall in the following cantos as the Italians navigated through the cracks of the Brazilians’ net and floor defense en route to victory.

“In this level, we need to play with high intensity because if you lose the points and focus, you lose the match so we have to play every point like it’s the last,” said Italy’s head coach Simon Gianelli.

With the score knotted at 1-1 and 6-6 in the third set, Italy kept on pounding, breaking through a 6-1 blast to take a 12-7 lead before ultimately zooming to a 13-8 finishing run to sway the game to their favors.

Italy gripped the momentum in the final set after Michelleto scored back-to-back aces to create a 13-10 separation, followed by a crosscourt kill by Romano that set the stage for Lavia’s winner.

Brazil’s Henrique Honorato lifted the squad with 15 points, while Ricardo Souza and Gualberto Resende added 11 and 10, respectively.

Italy will face Canada next on Thursday following Brazil’s battle against Netherlands.

Edited by Diana Mae Salonoy and 
Jostle Doen