John James Girao

World No. 1 Poland stayed unbeaten in Men's VNL Manila leg after making quick work of crowd-favorite Japan, 25-17, 25-19, 25-18, handing the latter its second straight defeat in their final showdown inside the MOA Arena, Sunday.

Photo Courtesy of Volleyball Nations League

After sweeping Canada, the Polish squad proved to be a force to reckon with, marching into the quarterfinals with a 10-2 record thanks to a beating of the Japanese pack. Top hitter Wilfredo Leon Venero bannered the beatdown with 16 points, steering their arsenal throughout the match.

Poland, thanks to better service hits and net defense, claimed the first two sets and took the upperhand midway through the third canto, 16-9, after pouncing on Japan’s crucial hiccups––of which was highlighted by Shoma Tomita’s service error that sealed the deal at 25-18.

“I think our performance today was great. We were focused, [we were] good in service and net defense. We will for sure watch the games and try to be better in the playoffs," said Poland’s Aleksander Sliwka in the post-game interview.

Japan managed to keep up with the white and red halfway through the opening set to knot the score at 15-all. However, Lukasz Kaczmarek decided to silence the fightback with two straight attacks before Japan called for a timeout.

The Philippe Blain-mentored squad tried to counter the run but stumbled in its efforts as the lead ballooned to five, sparked by an attack error from Yuji Nishida.

Poland jumped on the opportunity and nailed the Asians at 17 points by mounting a 6-0 run before punctuating the set with a service ace, 25-17.

Drawing strength from being down a set, power lefty Nishida roused the start of the second set with an early 8-6 run, in courtesy of an off-the-block kill.

But the Nikola Grbić-driven team immediately responded, with their solid net defense and Leon’s full-bore attacks, and never looked back before Nishida committed two consecutive errors for a 2-0 set lead.

“The crowd was amazing. They were cheering for Japan which I think is understandable. We are just really happy to play here in the Philippines," Sliwka said when asked about the atmosphere inside the arena.

Kaczmarek finished with 12 points off 11 spikes as Sliwka chimed in 11 markers all in attacks.

Tomita, on the other hand, was the bright spot on Japan’s second straight loss with 11 markers all built in attacks as Nishida racked up 9 points.

"It was a difficult game. First set, our strategy was working well, but after 20 points, it wasn't working on our side anymore," Japan captain Yuki Ishikawa said after the loss.

"I'm still so happy to be in the top three. We lost two games in a row, but, we played good," he added.

Both teams will now move on to the final round of the league which will kick off on Thursday, June 13.

Edited by Jostle Doen Pilayre