Wada steps in to inspire the historic victory

Japan celebrate during their VNL semifinal against Brazil

Japan secured their historic first medal in the women’s Volleyball Nations League by qualifying for Sunday’s final against Italy after a remarkable five-set semifinal victory over Brazil on Saturday. That win not only put an end to the South Americans’ 13-game winning streak since the start of the competition, but also stopped the tradition of Brazil beating Japan in five sets in each of their previous three encounters. In the other semifinal, Italy shut out Poland to advance to the VNL final for the second time in history, after winning gold in 2022.

Sunday’s gold medal showdown between Italy and Japan in Bangkok will start at 20:30 local time (13:30 UTC), while the bronze medal match between Poland and Brazil will serve off at 17:00 (10:00).

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22-year-old opposite Yukiko Wada, who subbed in for Kotona Hayashi during the first set of the late semifinal between Brazil and Japan, proved to be the big hero for the Asian squad as she led her teammates to a memorable 3-2 (26-24, 20-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12) victory. Wada produced a match-high 21 points towards Japan’s success to share the top scorer honours of the game with Brazilian star Gabriela Gumaraes (Gabi), with each of them putting away 20 spike kills and an ace. Captain Sarina Koga added another 18 points. The other Japanese outside hitter Mayu Ishikawa scored 16 points, including the match winner with a block-out swing, while middle blocker Airi Miyabe raised four kill blocks (two of them in the tie-breaker) towards an 11-point tally. Another four players reached the double digits on the Brazilian side: outside Julia Bergmann with 17, middle Thaisa Menezes with 16 (seven kill blocks!), opposite Rosamaria Montibeller with 16, and middle Ana Carolina Da Silva (Carol) with 14 (six kill blocks).

Yukiko Wada spikes past Julia Bergmann’s block

After Brazil managed to come back from a set down twice during the match with Japan, the Asian team stormed the fifth set on a 7-1 run. However, the South Americans battled back to catch up at 9-9, but never managed to step in front. With Japan defending spectacularly in the money time, they stayed in control until Ishikawa’s block-out kill closed the set and the match their way.

“Of course, it’s hard to talk now. It’s always difficult to play against Japan. They defend a lot. We also do, but today I think our counterattack wasn’t so good. Neither was our serve. They put in a lot of speed into their sets and their spikes, so we were struggling a little bit with the right positions,” Carol told VBTV after the match. “It was a hard game and now it is important to rest, because tomorrow we have another game and we have to be ready to fight again. Of course, it’s very frustrating, because we wanted to win the tournament, but Japan did a great job.”

“We kept losing to Brazil in five sets, but I think we learned our lesson. Finally we got that win and I am so happy for that! And I am so proud of my girls, because we stayed strong in the really difficult moments,” Airi commented. “It’s going to be a quick turnaround, but we have to recover and switch our mindset to winning the next game.”


The first semifinal earlier on Saturday was a match without suspense. Italy completely dominated on the court to master an emphatic 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-12) sweep of a one-sided encounter with Poland, prevailing on all scoring counts. Italian star opposite Paola Egonu was in her usual brilliant form and fired as many as 22 points over the three sets of the game. She spiked at a 59% success rate and delivered two kill blocks and an ace to top the match chart. Outside hitter Myriam Sylla added another 11 points, including a monster block for the match winner, while Italian setter Alessia Orro impressed with as many as five kill blocks to finish with seven points. Opposite Magdalena Stysiak was Poland’s best scorer with 11 points.

“It’s difficult to say something positive after this game, because it was a game without a story. But my team wants to finish this VNL with a win, so tomorrow we’ll do our best to finish in a positive way. Today Italy showed us how strong they are. The game plan was so easy for them. But tomorrow is a new day,” Poland’s setter and captain Joanna Wolosz said after the match. “After two seasons since we started working with coach Lavarini we are still growing, so we take each game as a lesson to grow.”

“I’m so happy and excited. I was a little nervous. I think we all were a little nervous, but we found our game and I am so happy! I am happy about the outcome. We have been practicing a lot, physically and mentally, and I think what kept us up was the mental preparation,” Paola Egonu commented. “I love the Thai fans so much! They’ve been close to me in the good times, in the bad times, always… So I am really grateful and always so happy to play in Thailand.”


Volleyball Nations League 2024: schedule and results



June 26, at 16:00 UTC


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