Slovenia Avenges Lone Loss in Group 2 with Championship Win over Japan

2017 FIVB WORLD LEAGUE – Group 2 Championship Match

  • Group 2
  • June 25th, 2017
  • Gold Coast, Australia
  • FIVB World League Finals
  • Schedule/Results

After Slovenia went through Netherlands and Japan downed Australia in the semifinals yesterday, the two sides met today in the championship final. Including the semifinal matches, Japan had won six of 10 games in the 2017 FIVB World League while Slovenia had nine victories to just one defeat. That lone blemish on Slovenia’s resume came against Japan in a five-set loss during pool play.

The first matchup saw Japan jump out with a 1-0 set lead. However, in the second go-around between the two sides, Slovenia jumped all over Japan early and proved to be the winning side behind a three-set sweep.

SLOVENIA DEF. JAPAN 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-17)

Slovenia had been the dominant team in Group 2 throughout, but Japan presented an interesting challenge after giving the Slovenians their only loss of the tournament, doing so in five sets. In fact, Japan’s last four matches had gone five sets – giving them experience in long matches. Slovenia though was able to jump ahead early and finish off Japan before that experience could be tested.

Klemen Cebulj, who led the match with 16 points (14 spikes on 20 attempts, two blocks), put the stamp of approval on the opening run for Slovenia as he recorded one of his two blocks in the match for a 9-4 edge. The lead only expanded from there for Slovenia and was eventually at 21-12 before Japan finally hit a small run by winning five of eight. However, even as Japan was playing better they were running out of time trailing to a Slovenian set point. Alen Pajenk, who netted 11 points for Slovenia, put down the final point of the set from a strike out of the middle.

As Japan looked to regroup in the second set, it was Slovenia slightly ahead at 13-11. After winning the next point, Japan would get one more behind the swing of Yuki Ishikawa to tie at 13. Slovenia reacted with nine of the next 15 though for a three-point advantage. Again Japan battled back and again it was Ishikawa, who tied for the team-lead with 12 points, tying the match up at 23 – this time with a back-row attack. Japan even got a chance on the next point to take a lead, but the roll shot of Masahiro Yanagida didn’t have enough power on it to get over the net. Yanagida changed things up on his next shot, smacking one hard off the Slovenian block to even the set at 24. But after Slovenia got up 25-24, it was Slovenian captain Tine Urnaut and Pajenk teaming up for a set-winning block and a 2-0 lead.

Set three was in favor of Slovenia early, but still anyone’s game at 9-7. An incredible rally that featured the ball traveling over the net 10 times in addition to plenty of block touches and diving digs was eventually won by the Slovenian block. It was a run-igniter as including that point, Slovenia won seven of 10. The foes nearly exchanged points from there with Slovenia pulling ahead for match point at 24-16. Mitja Gasparini, who had three aces, had a chance to end the match at the service area – something that would have been fitting as Slovenia out-aced Japan by seven. However, a serve error put to scraps that idea to make it 24-17. Gasparini quickly got a chance to amend himself, as he recorded his 15th and final point on a kill from the right pin to end the match.

With the three set sweep over the Japanese side, Slovenia was crowned as the 2017 FIVB World League Group 2 Champions.

“We played very focused and that was the most important thing in this game,” Urnaut, who had 11 points, said to FIVB post-match. “Our side-out was really good and we played it on a high level. Although we did not do anything special with our serve, we managed to score a lot on those. We did well on block-defense, which enabled us to facilitate a good counter-attack.”

Slovenia out-spiked Japan 47-34 in the match. Japan was a bit more efficient as they had six less attack errors, but Slovenia more than made up for it with blocks (9-5) and aces (8-1).

“I am really satisfied because we played really good games in this Group 2 Finals,” Slovenia coach Slobodan Kovac told FIVB after the match. “We really played high-quality volleyball. Working on this World League campaign, I have to put high importance on the motivation of my players. For us, this is the most important competition and we will do everything to win.”

While Japan falls just short, they still end up second in Group 2 after they took down host-Australia to get to the final match. Slovenia, who avenged their only loss of pool play ended the tournament with 10 victories to just one loss (including the two playoff matches). After they won Group 3 in last year’s World League, they now followed it up with an even better experience by rolling through Group 2.

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