Battle for Olympic tickets in Tokyo qualifier heats up; Korea claim first win by beating Australia



Japanese Yusuke Ishijima attacks against Thailand during the hosts’ impressive performance

Tokyo, Japan, June  4, 2008 – Italy claimed a fourth straight victory in the FIVB Men’s World Olympic Qualification Tournament on Wednesday, but not without difficulties against a brave Algeria who fought hard during the entire match.

In other action, Japan made another important step towards one of the two last Olympic berths by defeating Thailand, while Argentina, without injured ace Lucas Chavez, bounced back to beat Iran 3-1 in a day that saw the competition tighten at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Korea offered the big surprise by downing favourite Australia in an epic five setter.

The winner of this event will be heading to Beijing. The round-robin tournament doubles up also as the Asian Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament, so the best Asian team (even if the winner is Asian) will also book a berth in the Volleyball Tournament of the Olympic Games.

World No. 10 Italy improved their win-loss record to 4-0 by sweeping Algeria 3-0.  Despite Algeria’s lowly world ranking of 60, Italy knew they would have to play well at the start to take an early grip against a feisty team that has impressed here. So the “Azzurri” outclassed the African outsiders 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 to underline their intentions of winning the tournament and qualify to Beijing. Algeria dropped to 2-2 but will have enjoyed the experience of playing against this first-class Volleyball team. Italian Mauro Gavotto was the best scorer of the match with 16 points.

During the press conference after the encounter, Italian Head Coach Andrea Anastasi said: “We were able to play with enough concentration in this game. We were well prepared for this game against a team which beat Iran. Winning game by game is taking us closer to Beijing, so I want to maintain this good form.”

Korea caused a major surprise by beating Australia 3-2 in a magnificent match. The Koreans won 27-29, 25-21, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10 to record their first victory of the week after three defeats. Asian champions Australia dropped to 2-2 after their second straight defeat in a major blow to their qualifying hopes. Despite their loss, Australian Paul Carroll was the best scorer of the match with 22 points, followed by Korean Who In-Jung with 21.

“Until yesterday we had three consecutive losses, so we were worried about the players physically and mentally,” said Korean Head Coach Yoo Jung-Tak. “Because of that we started with reserve players, not with the best members today. We had our best members behind the bench. The reserve players were all faithful to what they needed to do, and that made us keep our power to the end.”

Japan, meanwhile, gave a great Volleyball performance to sweep Asian rivals Thailand 3-0. The 2007 Asian Championship runners-up and world No. 12 beat the 28th-ranked Thais 25-23, 25-14, 25-16 to improve their win-loss mark to 3-1.

Thailand, who finished fifth in last year’s Asian Championship, dropped to 0-4 with three matches to play. Best scorer of the match was the Japanese Takahiro Yamamoto with 14 points.

“We played with a good tension because we were aware of the last Asian Championship, when China defeated Australia and Japan lost against Thailand,” said Japan Head Coach Tatsuya Ueta. “This time Korea defeated Australia so I did not want the same nightmare situation. This time, before the game started we resolved what we should do in this game. We found our pace through Ishijima’s serving in the first set, and by putting pressure on their No. 3 (Wanchai) in the early stages. That was the reason for our victory. Against Australia the day after tomorrow it will be a question of service for both teams.”

Earlier, World No. 6 Argentina recovered from losing the first set to beat 26th-ranked Iran 3-1. The 2007 South American Championship runners-up had to work hard for their 25-27, 27-25, 25-19, 25-9 victory, saving two set points in the second set. The result improved their win-loss record to 3-1, while dropping Iran to 1-3 with three matches to play. This time Rodrigo Quiroga was the best scorer of the match with 19 points.

“Our team is still young, but we tried to be patient and raise the efficiency in this game,” said Argentine Head Coach Jon Uriarte. “In this game we could find new challenges to improve in the next game. Sometimes we were in a difficult situation, but I think it was a good game in the sense that each of the 12 players could put our original game plan into practice.”

The tournament will resume on Friday, after a rest day Thursday, when the teams will enter to the final round of matches to decide which two teams will qualify for the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Live scores, statistics, interviews and high resolution photos of the tournament are online at www.fivb.org

Fourth Day Results:
Argentina – Iran  3-1 (25-27, 27-25, 25-19, 25-9)
Korea – Australia 3-2 (27-29, 25-21, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10)
Italy – Algeria 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-20)
Japan – Thailand 3-0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-16)

Standings (two points for victory, one for loss):
Italy: 8 points
Argentina, Japan: 7 points
Algeria, Australia: 6 points
Iran, Korea: 5 points
Thailand: 4 points

Match schedule for Tokyo (All times are local)

Thursday, June 5 – Rest Day

Friday, June 6
Thailand vs. Argentina (11:35)
Iran vs. Italy (13:35)
Algeria vs. Korea (15:35)
Australia vs. Japan (18:30)

Saturday, June 7
Korea vs. Iran (11:05)
Australia vs. Algeria (13:05)
Italy vs. Thailand (15:05)
Japan vs. Argentina (18:00)

Sunday, June 8
Thailand vs. Korea (11:05)
Iran vs. Australia (13:05)
Argentina vs. Italy (15:05)
Algeria vs. Japan (18:00)

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