Japan beat Cuba in a five set thriller

May 24, 2024.- Japan and Cuba battled in one of the most exciting duels of the 2024 Volleyball Nations League so far on Friday, in Rio de Janeiro, and the Asians emerged on the winning side of it after more than two hours of action to remain undefeated.

Japan, who don’t have star outside hitters Yuki Ishikawa and Ran Takahashi available this week, started some other key against the Cubans, such as opposite Yuji Nishida, but showed resilience to top a red-hot Cuban team 3-2 (18-25, 25-22, 25-23, 19-25, 22-20).

It was a rollercoaster of a match, which saw the Caribbean start ahead and the Asians take the next two sets before a Cuban triumph in the fourth set forced a tie-breaker. Cuba built a 14-11 lead and got close to the win, but saw Japan come back to deny nine match points before Nishida put the last ball down to claim the victory.

Cuba were dominant at the net, outscoring Japan in kills (69 to 56) and blocks (20 to eight), but paid a steep price for their 39 errors. The Caribbean had the four players with the most points scored in the match in outside hitters Miguel Ángel López (25) and Marlon Yant (17) and middle blockers Robertlandy Simón and Javier Concepcion, with 14 each.

“Japan are one of the top teams in the World Rankings and we tried to bring our best,” Concepcion said. “They’re very disciplined and very technical and are a difficult opponent to anyone. We tried to stick to our game plan no matter what and we had our chances to win the match a few times, but unfortunately, we lost our focus and didn’t take them. We’re not sad about how we played, but certainly not happy either with the result.”

The defeat made the Cubans drop just 0.08 FIVB World Rankings points and kept them in ninth place, still inside the qualification zone for the Paris Olympics, with 256.77.

Cuba will complete their match schedules in the opening week of the VNL 2024 on Saturday, against Iran at 21:00 local time (00:00 GMT, Sunday).