Iran and USA get off to winning starts

Defending champions Iran and the United States started their Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games campaigns with straight-set victories on Saturday as Day 2 of sitting volleyball competition action got underway in Makuhari Messe Hall A.

Later in the day, Brazil and China also recorded their first win in the men’s and women’s tournament, respectively.

Match No. 3 (Men) – IRI v GER – 3-0 (25 -23, 25-15, 25 -15)

Reigning Paralympic champions Iran opened Day 2 against Germany, which were the last team to grab the spot in the competition. Germany showed that they meant business in the first few rallies and looked unintimidated by the towering Iranian hitter Morteza Mehrzadselakhani. Mehrzad was the go-to guy for the Iranian side as he got his team out of a tight situation to seize the opening set win at 25-23. In the second set, Iran took a seven-point lead, but Germany put pressure on them and managed to trim down the margin. Iran went back to piling on the points and took the set 25-15. Germany started the third set like a new game and managed to match Iran point-for-point with some great moves. However, it was short-lived as Iran closed the match at 25-15.

Six-time Paralympian Juergen Schrapp of Germany summed up the great match they have played with the defending champions well: “These games are like a wedding, it’s well-organised but the wedding couple cannot come to the party. It is a shame because the Japanese people are so warm and welcoming and we have these fantastic matches here, which would have been perfect with fans.”

Match No. 3 (Women) – USA v RWA – 3-0 (25-11, 25-9, 25-11)

The USA team, who are the women’s tournament’s defending champions, appeared strong-willed against two-time Paralympic participants Rwanda. The North American side wasted no time and jumped into a good offensive rhythm to start the match. Although their service needed some warming up from the start, it became their big weapon against Rwanda, which committed many unforced errors. The African team had some good blocks, but their efforts were not enough to put a stop against the USA hitters. They recorded 11 points in the first set, nine in the second and added another 11 markers in the third to concede the match in straight sets to USA.

Former USA player Kendra Lancaster Hall, who is in Tokyo as commentator for OBS, could not help but be amazed with the improvement sitting volleyball has made over the years and was completely overwhelmed seeing her former teammates on the court. Hall was also pleased to see new nations emerging such as Italy reach top rankings.

Match No. 4 (Men) – BRA v CHN – 3-1 (28-26, 26-28, 25-19, 25-13)

The Brazilian men started with a win against the Chinese, who are coached by Ye Jing, one of the female coaches in sitting volleyball. Ye guided the Zhejiang men’s sitting volleyball team to gold in their national championship in 2017. In a similar scenario from Friday’s match of the Brazilian women’s team, their male counterparts had a fiery start. A tight encounter ensued as both teams displayed excellent volleyball skills that resulted to draw in the first two sets, where both sets were decided by a 28-26 set-score. Brazil gained a 2-1 set edge after winning the third set 25-19, but China allowed to be overpowered in the fourth with the South Americans leading by as much as 15 points, eventually giving in to Brazil’s tough stand at 25-13.

“We expected it to be a tough one because they played more than us because we had to stop playing during the pandemic. But we expected them to play well, but made a good job to win.” Brazil’s Fabricio da Silva said.

Match No. 4 (Women) – CHN v RPC – 3-1 (25-20, 25-16, 25-14)

After three years without any major competitions, neither China nor RPC knew what to expect from the other team. From the first few points of the set, those watching the last match at Makuhari Messe Hall A realised they were on to a cracker. Both teams fought from the first point not to let the other get the advantage, but China eventually gained the advantage and won the first set 25-20. The Asian side took the advantage straight away in the second set with a significant lead and won the second set easily 25-16. In the third set, China again imposed their strong game on RPC and mounted a big lead that allowed them to take set and match at 25-14.

“It was a tough match for us because we have not played China for a long time, since the start of the COVID situation. We could have played harder and stronger, but today we did not have enough luck. But we are ready for Rwanda and we have to win that next match, because after that we play the American team, which is the hardest and strongest opposition,” Russia player Svetlana Churakova said.