Poland (POL) vs. Brazil (BRA) men - Quarterfinals #5933311

Poland advanced to the final of the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2023 and secured their fourth consecutive medal in the competition, after winning bronze in 2019 and 2022, and silver in 2021. In front of well over 10 thousand fans at the first semifinal in Gdansk on Saturday, the home team came back from a set down against a strong Japan to celebrate a 3-1 (19-25, 28-26, 25-17, 25-21) victory.

The next semifinal in Gdansk, between United States and Italy, starts at 20:00 local time (18:00 UTC).

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Poland’s outside hitter Wilfredo Leon was not among the starters, but entered the court during the first set and eventually led his team to success. He was the best scorer of the match with 23 points, including two blocks, and his success rate in attack was an amazing 72%. Opposite Lukasz Kaczmarek put away four of Poland’s nine kill blocks, which was the team’s most important weapon in this game, and finished with 19 points. Outside Aleksander Siwka added another 14. Captain Yuki Ishikawa fired four of Japan’s eight aces to lead the team with a total of 22 points. Outside Ran Takahashi scored 16 times, including three aces, while opposite Kento Miyaura delivered 13 points, all in attack.

The key to the first set was a spectacular series of six consecutive points for Japan, on Ran Takahashi’s turn to serve, featuring some out-of-this-world performances in attack (including a jump set from Takahashi for Kento Miyaura, all happening in the back row!) and on the block, as well as a couple of aces, to give the Asians a 15-9 lead. Wilfredo Leon’s entrance served its purpose to stop the Japanese run, but it was not enough for the home team to start a comeback in this set. Japan stayed in control until Miyaura fired the last shot of the set for 25-19. Stepping up their spiking efforts, Poland opened an early lead in the second set and were able to extend it to 10-5 before Japan started gradually hustling back to catch up at 18-18 and prompt an exciting epilogue. They denied a couple of Polish set points before wasting one of their own. Finally, Mateusz Bieniek’s serving proved crucial in helping Poland get back in front and close the set at 28-26, with Lukasz Kaczmarek killing the overpass for the set winner.

Riding the momentum and the inspiration coming from the fantastic Polish fans on the stands, the home team broke away on an 8-2 run and never looked back. Their lead was as wide as 10 points, when Yuki Ishikawa served a couple of aces in a row, but it was too late to start some kind of a comeback. A successful first-tempo attack by Norbert Huber finished the set off at a convincing 25-17 Poland’s way. Japan scored the first break points of the fourth set to edge forward, but then five points in a row on Aleksander Sliwka’s turn to serve put Poland in a 10-5 lead. The Asians fought back to within one, but with Leon on fire in attack the Europeans managed to hold on to their advantage. Finally, Sliwka put away the 25-21 winner to end the match and get the Polish party started.

“This means a lot,” said Wilfredo Leon after the match. “To come back after two years is great and it is emotional to be here and to play in the final, but not only that, because we play in front of our fans and that means a lot of emotional support for us, which is really helping us. That’s something that every player would like to have. We are lucky to have so many fans cheering for us. They give us a lot energy and adrenaline. And I need to say, big respect to Japan! They have made big progress over the years. Today it was a tough game for us and congratulations to Japan for that!”