Philippines vs. Japan: Six important questions

After a straight-sets loss to Thailand in their opening game for the 2018 Asian Games, the Philippine women’s volleyball team will try to bounce back in their next game. But the road gets tougher. Why? Because their next opponents are perennial Asian Games medalists and world number six Japan. Here are the most intriguing questions leading to their encounter:

Did Coach Shaq Delos Santos rest his starters to prepare against Japan?

The first six of the Philippines barely played during the third set against Japan. While a lot of fans criticized this strategy for it looked like an early gesture of surrender, it can be seen in a positive spin as giving the starters more rest to prepare for an even tougher opponent. However, this defeatist attitude will not boost the team’s morale. The coaching staff must continue to ride with the ones playing well until the game is definitively out of reach.

Is there a weakness to Japan’s game?

It’s not necessarily a weakness but Japan plays a bit slower than Thailand. However, they are always playing the odds so they don’t make too many mistakes. Credit that to the discipline instilled in their culture and the rigorous training they conduct. While the Japanese players have specialized positions, their regimen allows them to fill other spots if for some reason the rotation is in disarray.

What can the Philippine players improve on for this match?

Japan is a great counter-attack squad. They are excellent in exploiting opponent’s mistakes to rack up some points. Therefore, we can’t afford to have the same troubles with first ball reception. The best reception percentage any of our players had against Thailand was 13.33%. The squad gave a lot of easy scores to Thailand because of either over-reception or poor reception. Committing the same mistakes will spell doom for our team.

Likewise, our setters Kim Fajardo and Jia Morado must execute a variety of attacks from more spikers. Japan’s defense is impeccable and our national team must rattle that. In the game against Thailand, only Alyssa Valdez and Kim Kianna Dy had double-digit spike attempts with 18 and 16, respectively. Coming in at third is Aby Maraño with only seven. Scattering the ball to more hitters will keep the Japanese on their toes.

Who to keep an eye on Team Japan?

When our national team over-receives, expect middle blockers Nana Iwasaka and Erika Araki-Shinomiya to make them pay. Their arsenal of spikers are loaded with Japan V.Premier League Most Valuable Player Yuki Ishii on the outside as well as Miyu Nagaoka and Risa Shinnabe at opposite. Wing spiker Ai Kurogo also showed her prowess by scoring a team-high 11 points against Indonesia. Setters Koyomi Tominaga and Miya Sato will have plenty of options to keep their offense fluid.

With defense being Japan’s calling card, our spikers must always locate liberos Kotoe Inoue and Mako Kobata to bring the ball away from them.

Who should be the starting six for the Philippines?

With the hiring of former Turkish national women’s team head coach Ferhat Akbas as an assistant, Japan in integrating the European approach of deliberate, power volleyball to their system. Proof of that is their line-up with no player standing lower than 5’ 9” excluding the liberos. But even though they have a tall roster, they can still move quickly on the court. Therefore, this starting six will give Japan a fair fight:

Outside hitters: Alyssa Valdez and Cha Cruz – It’s hard to leave out Valdez given that she’s the best hitter in the squad. She might not be an excellent blocker but she is still the Philippines’ ace scorer. Meanwhile, Cruz will be there mainly for defensive purposes.
Middle blockers/hitters: Jaja Santiago and Aby Maraño – Santiago is a vital cog on net defense. Plus, her powerful spikes may cause the Japanese receivers to shank the ball. On the other hand, the national team captain will inject speed into the game with her quick slides.
Opposite spiker: Dindin Santiago-Manabat – Surprised? But given that she is the second tallest player in the team, it would be great to start her in front of the net alongside her sister. That wall will be tough to crack.
Setter: Kim Fajardo – Even though Jia Morado had a lovely drop ball against Thailand, Fajardo was more efficient in delivering the ball in general. Plus, her familiarity with Maraño is an advantage.
Libero: Dawn Macandili – She mirrors Japan’s liberos in terms of reflexes. When the opponent goes for a kill, it is comforting to know that she will be ready to scoop up those balls.

Who will win the game?

It’s not even a question of who will win but rather by how much. If Thailand was able to impose their will, what more Japan? The Japanese team has been together for years while the Philippine squad is just starting to get it bearings on the international stage. Their business-like approach to the game makes them more organized as well. Plus, we have a roster with only a few exceptional receivers. That will turn out to be a disadvantage against the service specialists of Japan. No doubt, Japan will win in straight sets.