Nicole Koolhaas (22) and Laura Dijkema (14) celebrate during the Netherlands’ win over Japan
Yokohama, Japan, September 30, 2018 - The Netherlands made it two wins from two to start the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on Sunday, propelled to a 3-2 (27-25, 16-25, 28-26, 19-25, 15-13) win over Japan off the back of 21 points from Anne Buijs.
Lonneke Slöetjes was also key for Jamie Morrison’s side, racking up 20 points, including 16 spikes.
Japan’s challenge was spearheaded by Ai Kurogo, who put up 25 points, while Sarina Koga also made a stellar contribution with 23, all of which were spikes.
Japan had won their opener against Argentina in straight sets, and the last time they started a World Championship with consecutive 3-0 wins was in 1998, when they also hosted the tournament. Any hopes of a repeat this time around were scuppered after a frantic first set though, which had the raucous fans inside Yokohama Arena on the edge of their seats from the outset.
Japan entered the first technical time out 8-5 ahead and extended their lead to 16-10 by the second TTO, but the Netherlands battled back with a positive attack led by Yvon Belien and Slöetjes, who both scored five points apiece - including the ace from Belien that decided the opener in their favour at 27-25 after a Japan challenge showed it was a fraction of an inch in.
Things are always incredibly close between these two when they meet at major world level tournaments - Japan coming into this clash with 10 wins to the Netherlands’ nine - but Japan had won three of the previous four at the World Championship and pulled themselves straight back into this encounter in the second set, as Koga laid the foundations and Kurogo wrapped things up with a vicious spike to make it 25-16.
The to-ing and fro-ing continued apace in the third set, with Slöetjes powering the Netherlands 10-7 ahead before Japan fought back and moved into a 23-21 lead. That prompted Netherlands coach Morrison to call a time out, and his team returned to the court revitalised, seeing out a Japan set point at 24-23 and then moving back in front themselves - Slöetjes slamming home the Netherlands’ third set point to make it 28-26.
There was to be no drop in quality or concentration in the fourth set, with both teams building some fantastic combinations and sharing some scarcely believable rallies - one of which saw Japan move 11-6 ahead after a Risa Shinnabe pile-driver down the line. Kanami Tashiro then pulled off a sensational block from a Slöetjes spike to make it 23-18 to Japan, who made sure the match would go the full five sets after another Koga spike was followed by a Britt Bongaerts serve into the net.
The final set was to provide just as much drama as the previous four, but despite Japan pushing them all the way thanks to some sensational Kurogo serving with Netherlands on match point, Celeste Plak was on hand to drive home the decisive spike and deliver a 15-13 win for her side.
The Netherlands next Pool A opponents are Cameroon on Monday, when Japan will come face to face with Mexico.