Know thy Asian Games 2018 Group A Opponent: Japan

The Japanese women’s volleyball team was a formidable squad during the 1960s and the 1970s. During these decades, they won three FIVB World Volleyball Championships (1962, 1967, 1974), two Olympic gold medals (1964 and 1976) and a World Cup (1977). They have also bagged Asian Games gold in five consecutive tournaments (1962-1978).

Though their dominance may have slipped in recent years, this does not mean that they can be taken lightly. With an approach that is premedicated on discipline and defense, our Philippine team will have a hard time cracking their guard when they clash at the 2018 Asian Games on August 21.

Who to look out for in Team Japan

There’s some good news and some bad news.

First good news: service specialist Saori Kimura and opposite spiker Saori Sakoda have retired while back row attack threat Yukiko Ebata will not be part of the squad.

Second good news: host nation Japan has decided to concentrate more on the 18th FIVB Women’s World Championship that will be held in September and October this year. Therefore, experienced players such as middle blocker Erika Araki will not suit up for the Japanese contingent in the 2018 Asian Games.

Third good news: A depleted Japanese squad gives the Philippine women’s volleyball team a better chance at winning.

But these twists of fate might not spell victory for the Philippines squad.

Bad news number one: 1984 Olympic Games bronze medalist Kumi Nakada will still be coaching the squad. She will play the familiarity card as five of her players were under her helm as coach of the Hisamitsu Springs in the Japanese V.League.

Bad news number two: While Nakada often prefers maturity over youth, her Asian Games roster will feature young and energetic talent such as hitters Arisa Inoue and Yurie Nabeya who will look to connect with setter Miya Sato. Middle blocker Nana Iwasaka will serve as captain while backing her up are Haruyo Shimamura and Mai Okumura.  Opposite spiker Miyu Nagaoka continues her comeback trail after suffering an ACL injury during their 2017 V.League Final 6 Playoff match against the NEC Red Rockets.

Bad news number three: Since defense is Japan’s calling card, liberos Kotoe Inoue and Mako Kobata will set the tone with their reflex digs and diving saves.

The Japanese squad will not execute plays at a blistering pace. However, their attacking precision is what coach Shaq Delos Santos and his coaching staff will have to figure out. Their cadence might not be as quick as the Thais but their success rate is high.

How can we beat the Japanese

It’s best to counter their defense with force. Kim Fajardo and Jia Morado must deliver the ball higher so that our spikers can be more creative with their attack. Setting the ball higher allows hitters to adjust according to how the opponent’s defense is set up. Flustering the defense with a quicker pace can work to our advantage. As much as possible, attacks should be brought at the sidelines for Japan’s middle blocking is top-notch.

The addition of Turkish Coach Ferhat Abbas will add another dimension to the Japanese attack. With the embracing of a modernized European-style approach, expect more attacks from the wings especially from the opposite spiker. The Philippine team must be wary of Japan’s powerful cross-court attacks to have a better chance of winning.

Prediction

With the seasoned players not representing Japan for the 2018 Asian Games, our Philippine national team will put up a better fight. But the cohesion among five players who have been together for years is hard to beat. Coach Nakada and captain Iwasaka will be able to nurture and guide their team to victory. I predict that Japan will win in straight sets with the first set being a dogfight. Given the short preparation time that our national team had, I hope that the nightmare of their Asian U-23 encounter in May 2015 will not haunt our team again.