China sweep Olympic champions USA, Iran brave the odds against Brazil

Xu Yixiao’s solid performance of 18 attacks and a block paved the way for China to dominate the reigning champions United States in straight sets to lead Pool B of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games women’s sitting volleyball competition at Makuhari Messe Hall A on Monday.

The scoring trio led of Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, Meisam Ali Pour and Sadegh Bigdeli posted double-digits outputs to bolster the Iranian offence in braving the odds against a persistent Brazilian side in the men’s tournament.

Meanwhile, RPC and China recorded victories to join the winning column of the women’s and men’s events, respectively.

Match No. 7 (Women) – RWA v RPC – 0-3 (9-25, 9-25, 12-25)

Prior to the encounter, RPC were ranked third in the pool and pitted against the fourth-ranked team Rwanda. The RPC athletes, who needed to get back on track in the competition, did just that with a 3-0 victory over the African champions.

Rwanda did not let themselves get intimidated by RPC easily and fought hard in every single set. However, RPC’s better all-around game still prevailed and held their African counterparts to score just nine markers in each of the first two sets, and their dominance reigned in the end with a 25-12 win in the third set.

RPC will now move to the next match against Rio 2016 gold medallists United States, and the former must focus on upset to win the pool to have a chance to advance to the semifinals.

“We need to do a lot of studying of our opponents since we were not able to compete in Rio de Janeiro. We must count on all those experiences in the last five years to help us. we also have to train hard and exert all our efforts to reach success,” RPC libero Tatiana Ivanova said.

“As we are playing the United States in our next match, we must unite and act like one family and keep our emotions high but also be calm to control difficult situations because USA are playing on a high level.”

Match No. 7 (Men) – GER v CHN – 0-3 (23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 23-25)

The match of Germany and China had an air of nostalgia reminiscent of their London 2012 encounter, when the Europeans qualified to the semifinal beating the Asian side after being two sets down. The question at hand was whether these two teams would make it as intense as their first encounter this time around.

With both teams finding their first victory in the tournament, the match was a must-win to stay in the race for a medal. Germany made good use of hitter Dominik Albrecht in the first set, but their sudden loss of concentration halfway through the set gave China an opportunity to come back and level the score. This spurred China to push forward and take the first set with a two-point margin at 25-23.

Xu Zengbing was China’s go-to player in the second set as he matched Germany at a point-by-point exchange to reach the deadlock at 22-all. Germany managed to turn the tables in their favour and levelled at 1-1 with a 25-23 win. China seemed unfazed with that previous set loss and mounted an early lead in the third set, but Germany fought back to bridge the gap and forced a tight trade of points towards the end of the set. China got the last say in the set with another 25-23 win.

The fourth set were highlighted with long rallies with both teams trying to outdo each other. The Germans took the lead this time, but China tried to regroup and snatched the lead that ballooned to a six-point edge at 22-16. Coach Michael Merten’s last minute substitutions for Germany helped saved some points, but China still ended up taking the set and match at 25-23.

“We prepared hard for the matches here. I do not think we played relaxed in this match, but I could say that we trained hard to get through this tough match. About the chance for a medal here, we lost to Brazil and will still face world and Olympic champions Iran, we will just do our best,” China libero Zhang Zhongmin.

Match No. 8 (Women) – USA v CHN – 0-3 (17-25, 22-25, 24-26)

The United States and China were pegged as the two favourites in women’s sitting volleyball at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and their preliminary round clash is considered as a potential preview of the finals.

China played a sharp game to take an early lead in the first set. As both teams engaged in fast-paced rallies and implemented solid net defence, USA managed to gain better traction and levelled the score at 17-all. Then China’s service pressure in the succeeding plays worked in their favour to win the opening set 25-17.

China carried their momentum from their first set win for an early lead in the next frame. USA rallied back and forced a cat-and-mouse game with China, but each time the North Americans had a break, their Asian rivals came back stronger with a stronger hit or serve to stop their progression. As they trailed by four points towards the end of the set, China employed great defence to win the set 25-22.

In the third set, China had an 8-1 run, as they responded well on the USA attacks. Then USA hustled more in the succeeding plays to get to a deadlock at 19-all but lost again their momentum, giving away four points to their rivals to reach match point. USA swung the momentum back to their side to tie at 24-all, but an attack error and a strong swing from China’s top scorer Yu Yixiao sealed match victory at 26-24.

“We just need to regroup and come back together, digest what happened and come back to our game. When we are playing in our flow then that’s when we are performing at our highest. I just need to go back to that place,” USA opposite Whitney Dosty said.

“I think that we have not seen China for a long time, we have not seen them in five years. We talked at practice about how we’re trying to be the hunters, and because honestly walking into Tokyo we’re 0-0. We’ve had Covid to deal with, and we have not seen China since 2017. To me that version of China we saw in 2017 was not the 2016 version. That (today) was the 2016 version of China,” United States captain Kathryn Holloway said.

“There were several moments where we would get on a run, and we’d catch up within one or two points, and then either we would have an error, or there would be a call made that didn’t go our way. Those were big, pivotal points of momentum, and volleyball is a game of momentum. China had momentum pretty much the entire match.”

Match No. 8 (Men) – IRI v BRA – 3-0 (25-19 , 25-23 , 25-21)

Following the earlier win of China over Germany, reigning Paralympic champions Iran were seeking a win over Brazil to avoid a three-way tie and gain leadership in Pool B.

Brazil started well as their picked up strong hits of Mehrzad and even blocked the Iranian big man several times. Iran reached the technical timeout with a slim one-point lead and the second one with a two-point margin, showing great pressure from the opposition. Ali Pour inflicted some damage to the Brazilian defence with his powerful serve and help the team gain the opening set win 25-19.

Brazil seemed to have found the way to deal with the towering Iranian hitter as they imposed a tough block and employed solid defence from the backrow on his swings. Their persistence paid off by the end of the second technical timeout as they led 16-15. Iran managed to get their attack game consistent after that until they had two set points before closing the set 25-23.

Brazil had a sluggish start in the third set, which led to an 8-2 deficit as they showed less determination on their game. They eventually regained their composure and earned 10 points at the second technical timeout, but Iran played cleverly to maintain their edge. The Brazilians trimmed down the lead, but Iran managed to cap the surge at 25-21.

“It was a hard game. There were some details that we need to improve on our game, but I learned something in this match that would help us in the next match – it was hard, but it was not impossible.” Gilberto Lourenco da Silva said.