FIVB VNL 2019 preview – can Japan’s defense take them all the way?

Japan’s national women’s volleyball team returns to the FIVB VNL 2019 with plenty of motivation as it begins the build-up towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Japan is the most dangerous threat to defending champion United States within its pool in this tournament. Quickness and sturdy defensive play make it a pesky opponent.

With just over a year before the Games, how will Japan maximize the Nations League to lay down the groundwork for its loftier Olympic aspirations?

FIVB VNL 2018 record & stats

Win / loss: 7 – 8

Points: 20

Sets won / lost / ratio: 27 – 31 – 0.871 (10th)

Points won / lost / ratio: 1209 – 1273 – 0.950 (8th)

Final position: 10th

What’s new for Japan in FIVB VNL 2019?

The most significant development for the Japanese squad is a coaching shuffle which saw it lose a vital asset in assistant coach Ferhat Akbas. The Turkish coach spent a short four months with the team but helped head coach Kumi Nakada guide Japan to a sixth-place finish when hosting the 2018 World Championships.

In an episode of the FreeBall volleyball podcast, Akbas, 32, admitted he chose to take a risk and coach the Bucuresti club team in Romania to continue his development as a coach instead of working full-time for Japan’s national team.

“In my opinion, experience on the court is much better than watching the games outside,” said Akbas, who earlier in his career was mentored by China’s Lang Ping, still the only person to win Olympic golds as a player and as a coach.

The timing of the move earlier this year means Nakada will have to make adjustments once more with a new assistant coach, and ensure the team is able to build on its gains from the World Championships.

Japan world ranking: 6 (October 18)

Japan provisional roster

Full provisional squad listed with subsequently cut players listed in red.

Head coach: Kumi Nakada

Setters: Koyomi Iwasaki, Haruka Miyashita, Miya Sato, Kanami Tashiro, Nanami Seki

Liberos: Kotoe Inoue, Akane Moriya, Mako Kobata

Middle Blockers: Erika Araki, Nana Iwasaka, Mai Okumura, Aika Akutagawa, Haruyo Shimamura, Aya Watanabe, Mai Irisawa, Erika Shinomiya

Wing Spikers (Outside & Opposite Hitters): Risa Shinnabe, Yuki Ishii, Mami Uchiseto, Yurie Nabeya, Yuka Imamura, Sarina Koga, Ai Kurogo, Miyu Nakagawa, Miwako Osanai, Yuri Yoshino, Reina Tokoku, Mayu Ishikawa, Ameze Miyabe

Average age: 24.5

Average height: 175.7cm

Domestic/overseas players: 26/2

Japan players to watch in the FIVB VNL 2019: Yuki Ishii, Kotoe Inoue, Sarina Koga

Japan will likely be anchored once more by the defense of libero Kotoe Inoue and by the offense of outside hitter Yuki Ishii. But wing spiker Sarina Koga also emerged as sources of offensive firepower during last year’s World Championships.

Koga, in particular, was the fifth best scorer in that tournament with a total of 171 points.

Setter Kanami Tashiro is also worth keeping an eye on, having been the fifth best setter at last year’s Nations League.

Japan is a relatively experienced squad with many of its players in their mid to late 20s, right in the prime of their careers.

Interestingly, the team will also be infused with international experience this year with two of its players – Inoue and Tashiro – gaining valuable mileage in Romania playing for the club team of their former assistant coach Akbas.

Sarina Koga and Yuki Ishii in action in the FIVB World Championship. Source:

Japan FIVB VNL 2019 match schedule

All fixture times listed in GMT.

Week 1

May 21 at 17:30 – Bulgaria v Japan

May 22 at 14:00 – Japan v USA

May 23 at 14:00 – Belgium v Japan

Week 2

May 28 at 14:30 – Turkey v Japan

May 29 at 11:30 – Japan v Russia

May 30 at 11:30  – Japan v Germany

Week 3

June 4 at 12:30 – China v Japan

June 5 at 09:30 – Italy v Japan

June 6 at 09:30 – Japan v Netherlands

Week 4

June 11 at 10:10 – Japan v Brazil

June 12 at 10:10 – Japan v Serbia

June 13 at 10:10 – Japan v Thailand

Week 5

June 18 at 04:30 – Japan v Poland

June 19 at 08:00 – Korea v Japan

June 20 at 04:30 – Japan v Dominican Republic

Japan games to watch out for in FIVB VNL 2019

Given Japan’s speed, size and athleticism, it should be fun to watch them against the Asian teams with a similar style such as Thailand and South Korea. The Japanese could dominate the Thais but it would be exciting to watch a battle between these two Asian powerhouses.

Japan’s match against the US is one to watch as well. The Americans are the clear frontrunners but the Japanese remain their most challenging foe within Pool 2 on Week 1. The US swept Japan when they met at last year’s FIVB VNL but it will be interesting to see whether the Japanese can put up a better fight – or perhaps pull off at least a one-set upset – this time around.

The bottom line: Can defense and willpower carry Japan all the way in FIVB VNL 2019?

Japan is best known for its scrappy defense. What this team lacks in size it makes up for in physicality and tremendous effort. It has been able to dominate continental competition with plenty of success in the Asian Games, the Asian Championships and the Asian Cup Volleyball Championship.

But when it comes to the world’s best, Japan has shown more often than not that it would need a little bit more to get over the hump.

Japan made it to the podium with a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics, arresting a 28-year Olympic medal drought. It also beat world number one Serbia in the World Championships last year on home soil.

The recipe for victory, however, requires near-perfect execution for every outing, particularly when it comes to quick and accurate passing. Less than stellar passing slows down its game, allowing its opponents to set up the defense for Japanese spikers. So when things are off for Japan on any given day, things can go south quickly.

This team has excellent core skills nonetheless and it’s likely the most pressing challenge would be finding and sustaining the mental resolve to keep chipping away from the opening whistle to match point.

Unfortunately, it won’t have the backing of a huge home crowd at this year’s Nations League unlike the World Championships, so it will have to dig a little deeper.

What is a realistic FIVB VNL projection for Japan’s women’s team?

Ranked sixth in the world, Japan will clearly be looking to finish within the top six of this tournament, which would be a marked improvement from its 10th place last year. But realistically, it will take a monumental effort to go deep into this competition.

Japan won’t be able to draw on home-court advantage this time around, so sustaining that determination and focus from an emotional and mental standpoint can quickly become draining. It will though have the new major motivation of wanting to do well at the 2020 Olympics in front of its home crowd. We’ll have to wait and see whether that would be enough.

How to watch Japan in FIVB VNL 2019

FIVB haven’t as yet released the broadcast details for the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Once it is updated we will update this section.

For now we are able to say that fans in Japan were able to watch the 2018 tournament on, TBS and NHK.

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