Japan and Brazil will cross their ways in the semis of the women’s tournament at the London 2012 Olympics after claiming a couple of thrilling matches in the 1/4 finals that were followed by a full house at Earls Court. Japan eventually made it to the semis 24 years after doing so at the Seoul Olympics by besting the Asian arch-rivals of China while Brazil got back on track in their match with Russia that had turned into a real uphill climb, with the 2008 Olympic champions going down twice in the set count.
Russia could not capitalize on six match balls and the South Americans eventually prolonged their Olympic adventure by cashing their first opportunity for the 3-2. Team USA confirmed their intention to go for Olympic glory in London by cruising to a quick 3-0 win over the Dominican Republic showing great consistency and quality even though they were missing their regular setter and captain Lindsey Berg, who is nursing an injury but will be back in action for the semis. The USA will be challenged there by Korea that anchored by their star Kim Yeon-Koung edged Italy 3-1 (18-25, 25-21, 25-20, and 25-18) to return back to the top four after claiming bronze back at the Montreal Games in 1976.
Japan vs. China 3-2
Team Japan were the first to qualify for the semi-finals of the women’s volleyball tournament as Saori Kimura and Yukiko Ebata scored 33 points apiece to eventually edge China 3-2 (28-26, 23-25, 25-23, 23-25, and 18-16) at the end of a classy match that was followed by some 15,000 fans at Earls Court. Japan were actually close to finish it off in the fourth set but eventually could not capitalize on their lead there while China missed out on two match balls in the tie-break. This is a very special moment for Team Japan that come back to the semis at the Olympics after 24 years, the last top four finish dating back to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Additionally, Japan scored their first win over China in 11 years as far as FIVB competitions are concerned, even though the group currently mentored by Masayoshi Manabe had edged their Asian arch-rivals four times in the past few years, but exclusively in invitational tournaments or in friendly matches. Hui Ruoqi and Wang Yimei paced China’s offense with 26 and 22 points but Japan stayed cool to fire up the celebrations of their many fans in the stands. The result is really significant especially since Japan had claimed, up to today, only 6 out of 45 official international matches with China.
Russia vs. Brazil 2-3
Brazil qualified for the semis of the 2012 Olympics after a memorable match where the 2008 Olympic champions stormed back twice from one set down and even saved six match balls to eventually edge Russia 3-2 (24-26, 25-22, 19-25, 25-22, and 21-19). Sheilla Castro paced Brazil with 27 points while Thaisa Menezes chipped in with 24; Russia’s offense was anchored by Liubov Shashkova with 28, as 25 points apiece were scored by Ekaterina Gamova and Nataliya Goncharova. With this result Brazil improved its Olympic record with Russia to 4 wins and 2 losses and will challenge Japan in the semis coming up on Thursday. The game was really emotional, lasting for more than 2 hours and 20 minutes, and packed with continuous
turnarounds, with the South Americans always believing in their chances to make it to the next stage of the competition. Russian star and FIVB hero Ekaterina Gamova bid farewell to the national team at the end of this match as she had announced before traveling to London the Olympics would have been her last appearance with the jersey of the “sbornaya”.
United States vs. Dominican Republic 3-0
The United States extended their winning streak also to the 1/4 finals of the women’s volleyball tournament downing the Dominican Republic in straight sets (25-14, 25-21, and 25-22) to qualify for the semis scheduled for Thursday and play there the winning side of the last game on schedule for Tuesday, Italy or Korea. Via this classy performance the players coached by Hugh McCutcheon re-asserted their role as top contenders for the gold medal that will be at stake later this week. Destinee Hooker paced Team USA with 19 points with Foluke Akinradewo and Jordan Larson also finishing in double digits with 12 and 11 respectively while Prisilla Rivera and Bethania de la Cruz were once more the major force in offense for the Caribbean side with 15 and 12.
Italy vs. Korea 1-3
Korea qualified for the semis of the 2012 Olympics by edging Italy 3-1 (18-25, 25-21, 25-20, and 25-18) anchored by the 28 points scored by their star Kim Yeon-Koung thereby making it to the top four for the first time since the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Italy’s offense was evenly distributed with five players finishing in double digits – and Antonella Del Core top
scoring with 16 – but after a good start their play got somehow stuck and the defeat turned this Olympic campaign into another major disappointment after Italy had already failed to find their way to the semis in Athens and in Beijing. Having already taken one set from the USA in the prelims, Korea are expected to be a very tough opponent for the stellar US American side coached by Hugh McCutcheon in the semis on Thursday.