Volleyball News

Osaka, Japan, September 16, 2017 – Amir Ghafour topped all scorers with 23 points that boosted Iran’s 3-1 (21-25, 25-19, 25-20, 25-14) win over Japan in the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Grand Champions Cup at the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium on Saturday.

Ghafour had a solid performance from the attack line as he scored 21 spikes. He also helped out on defence with two stuff blocks. Iran had a total of 13 blocks, including Saman Faezi’s four and Seyed Mohammed Mousavi’s three. Issei Otake and Akihiro Yamauchi led Japan with 16 and 11 points, respectively.

Iran and Japan most recent meeting at world level was in 2016, when Iran beat Japan in four sets in the Olympic qualifier. In their third encounter at the World Grand Champions Cup, Iran won again with the same scoreline of 3-1 against Japan.

Japan played a fast-paced game against their Asian rivals Iran in the opening set. As Masahiro Yanagida struggled on offence, setter Naonobu Fujii set up masterful plays for his other hitters, which resulted to a brilliant 25-21 win. Iran countered with solid blocks and strong spikes that rewarded them with the win. By the third set, Iran already established their ground on offence and defence that made it difficult for Japan to overcome.

Iran coach Igor Kolakovic: We expected a difficult game against Japan because we needed time to adapt to their game. They are very good in defence. They are not perfect but all the time they control the ball in their field. From my experience playing with my ex-national team Serbia they are always difficult to play against especially in the first set and that was the case today, but afterward we controlled the game. I’m so happy for my players because they played a serious game and it’s not easy to play here. We have a lot of pressure tomorrow because it’s a big day for us as we try to reach a medal.

Iran captain Mir Saeid Marouflakrani: It’s always hard to play Japan so we knew it would be a tough match today. We didn’t have a perfect start but after that we controlled the game and the last three sets were very good for us. Our serve and reception was good today and we played our side-outs with more confidence than in other matches.

Japan coach Yuichi Nakagaichi: In the first set, we came out very good. We wanted to play like yesterday and (Issei) Otake was spiking well and we were able to take the set. But after that, their service disrupted our reception and our attacks were stopped and we fell into our usual losing pattern and gradually lost concentration. However, I was able to use (Taishi) Onodera and that’s something positive for the future. Apart from (Yuki) Ishikawa, our outside spikers are slow to block and that’s something we need to fix.

We had blocking counter-measures to tackle their offence but they concentrated on our weak points and that’s also a pattern in our games. They were very efficient in attacking our weaknesses. We need to do something otherwise we are too exposed, but we have limited resources at present so we’ll look to change that next season. We have actually been practicing blocking a lot since May but the return hasn’t been good enough. The players’ hands are late or not forward enough. We’ve improved some things but in this competition our block hasn’t functioned well.

In terms of fighting instinct and concentration, there’s room for improvement and we’re trying to change. But there’s no silver bullet, so currently we are trying to tell ourselves to be more aggressive and to improve our teamwork. In reality, we couldn’t make much progress this year, but next year we want to have a more mental approach and learn mental techniques to raise our motivation. There are techniques for learning such things, but on the court when we are faced with tough situations there should be a leader who can help others and push the other players. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear answer to this problem yet. Strengthening the mentality of the players isn’t easy. The players must grow as persons. So we can’t just do ball training. We have to have a complete approach that involves the physical side and the mental side, as well as individual growth.

Japan player Issei Otake: In the first set, we had good momentum and we were able to show our volleyball at its best. But against their block our response became worse and their service got better. We also need to do better and score on the opportunities we have. When I spiked, I felt that if I aimed for a longer trajectory there was less chance the shot would be stopped, so I tried to find a better course and a longer trajectory. The teams we are playing in this competition are very different to the other teams we’ve played recently. Plays that worked previously haven’t worked against these teams. Personally, I couldn’t respond to certain situations and this is something I’ve learned by playing against these Olympic-level teams. So, something needs to change.

Japan player Naonobu Fujii: Today, the volleyball in the first set and the other sets were completely different. We didn’t play clever volleyball and that led to our defeat. When we play good teams, we must be more accurate and not make so many mistakes. We’re not in good condition mentally. What worked before suddenly isn’t working in many cases. We’re facing a strong headwind and that’s new to me. The key is to find out how to play my normal game in such situations.

Japan player Shohei Yamamoto: We lost today because of mistakes that don’t directly lead to losing points. We just made too many to be able to compete with Iran, so we need to think about that and improve the accuracy of our play. Rather than think about the opposition, we should think about how high we can go in terms of quality.


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