Japan (JPN) vs. Türkiye (TUR) women - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #15458691

Sarina Koga in attack

Japan delivered the first huge upset of Volleyball Nations League 2024, defeating defending champions, the world’s number one team, and pool hosts Türkiye in Antalya on Wednesday evening. Their captain Sarina Koga produced 31 points and a truly inspirational performance on the court to lead her team to victory despite the deafening support of nearly 10 thousand Turkish fans for the home side.

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Outside hitter Koga piled up 27 kills in attack, three aces and a kill block towards her 31-point match high in Japan’s 3-2 (25-23, 25-21, 23-25, 20-25, 15-11) victory over Türkiye. This outcome resulted in 9.9 points changing hands from Türkiye to Japan in their FIVB World Ranking scores, which is really important for the Asian team as they have not qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games yet. Japan jumped over the Dominican Republic into position eight in the ranking, narrowed the gap to number seven Italy and widened the distance from number 10 the Netherlands, two teams that have yet to earn their Olympic visas too.

Japan’s other striker Mayu Ishikawa added another 20 points towards this important success. Her tally included two of the team’s seven aces. Türkiye outplayed Japan in blocking with a total of 15 stuffs against just seven. The two middles, Beyza Arici and Asli Kalac, impressed with four kill blocks each. As many as five Turkish players reached the double digits in scoring. Tugba Senoglu Ivegin led the way with 19 points, followed by Ebrar Karakurt with 16, Hande Baladin with 15, Melissa Vargas with 12 and Beyza with 10.

Japan (JPN) vs. Türkiye (TUR) women - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #15459353

Mayu Ishikawa in action

Koga spearheaded Japan’s attacks to help open a six-point lead in the first set. Türkyie battled their way back to within one, but the Asians managed to edge ahead by a narrow 25-23. In a rollercoaster second set, Koga once again showed her leadership to steer her teammates to a 25-21 close and a 2-0 lead in the match.

The really tight battle continued in the third set, with the lead going back and forth a couple of times. With Ebrar Karakurt taking charge in Türkiye’s offence, they took the set by 25-23 to stay in the match. There was no stopping them in a one-sided fourth set as they cruised to a 25-20 win and pushed the game to five. Türkiye stormed the tie-breaker on a 3-0 run, but Japan quickly turned things around. After 9-5, coach Danielle Santarelli looked for options in the substitutions, but it was already too late. Koga kept shining to keep Japan in front and got a well-deserved chance to hammer the 15-11 match winner.

“It was our first game after a long period. We know that Japan is always a dangerous team and we tried our best. We lost by 3-2, but this is just the beginning. We have a long competition and for sure we’ll play better,” Türkiye’s libero Simge Sebnem Akoz said after the match. “I can’t explain how incredible it is to play in front of these fans. They love volleyball and we love them.”

“It’s amazing! It feels really nice,” exclaimed Japan’s Airi Miyabe. “Although all these people rooted for Türkiye, not us, there was a really nice atmosphere and we enjoyed it. It’s a really good way to start in the VNL. We really need our points and I’m glad we got some today. I think we did a really good job staying mentally strong in the fifth set.”

In their next matches on Thursday, Japan will play against Bulgaria at 17:00 local time (14:00 UTC) and Türkiye will meet the Netherlands at 20:00 (17:00).

France (FRA) vs. Germany (GER) women - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #15449286

German opposite Lena Kindermann celebrates with her teammates

Earlier in the day, Germany spoiled France’s VNL debut with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-14, 25-22) shutout. The result brought them a precious 7.57 points towards the World Ranking, as they have quite a lot of catching up to do to get into the real fight for Olympic tickets. Meanwhile, losing the same amount of points, France dropped below Puerto Rico into number 16 in the World Ranking, which, however, has no effect on their spot at the Games as Olympic hosts. German opposite Lena Kindermann hammered out a match-high 17 points towards the victory, including three blocks and an ace. Captain Lena Stigrot and middle blocker Anastasia Cekulaev added 10 points apiece. Outside hitter Maeva Schalk was France’s leading scorer with 11 points, including two stuffs and an ace.

The VNL competition day will continue with the Pool 2 games in Rio de Janeiro. The United States will face Thailand at 17:30 local time (20:30 UTC) and Serbia will take on the Dominican Republic at 21:00 (00:00).

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