Bengaluru, Dec 7 (IANS): Japan’s Suntory Sunbirds became the first team to reach the semifinals in the Men’s Volleyball Club World Championships 2023 despite going down 2-3 to four-time Champions Sada Cruzeiro Volei at the Koramangala Indoor stadium here on Thursday.
Sunbirds, playing in the prestigious competition for the first time, saved four match points in the third set and then forced a decider to assure themselves of one point from their second Pool B match and sealed their semifinal berth.
Sada also stayed in the hunt for a spot in the knock-out stage as they regrouped in time to win their opening clash of the championship 25-21, 31-29, 28-30, 22-25, 15-12 and earn two valuable points.
According to the tournament format, a team winning by a margin of 3-2 earns three points while the losing outfit also bags a point for their efforts.
As things stand in Pool B, Sunbirds now have four points while Sada will face Turkey’s Halkbank Spor Kulubu in a must-win clash on Friday.
Such an eventuality looked improbable till the business end of the third set between Sada and Sunbirds with the Brazilian outfit looking set to clinch the three points full points thanks to their superior spiking. However, Sunbirds kept their nerves when it mattered the most to earn a valuable point.
Sada, who have been unbeaten in their five Brazilian Superliga matches so far, looked comfortably placed in the third set, having won the first two, as they opened up a 14-10 advantage with a couple of quality blocks.
But Sunbirds, who had blanked Halkbank in their opening match, were not willing to throw in the towel just yet and levelled the scores at 22-22 with their Russian Opposite Dmitriy Muserskiy continuing to find gaps in the Brazilian defence.
They then went on to save four match points before converting their second set point to finally get on the scoreboard.
With the momentum clearly shifting in Sunbirds' favour, the Japanese outfit kept up the pressure on their more experienced opponents. A forced substitution of Alain Junior with all to play for at 13-12 also failed to slow them down as they earned three set points.
Sada saved one of them but Saatkamp’s next serve went long and Sunbirds expectedly celebrated their passage to the semi-finals.
Earlier, Sunbirds had started the match against Sada with two consecutive service errors in the opening set and though they raised their game thereafter, the Japanese side was always chasing the set.
Sada boasts of a strong attacking lineup with Cuban outside hitter Miguel Lopez, Olympic champions Wallace de Souza and Lucas Saatkamp and Sunbirds knew that their chances of sealing the semi-final berth would depend on their blockers and defence.
Lopez was the most dominating spiker for Sada from the left scoring a total of eight points in the opening set and the support he got from Saatkamp and Batista Cledenilson Souza even forced Sunbirds coach Kota Yamamura to sacrifice the setter to have another blocker on the court.
This did help the Japanese side to close the gap by bagging three straight points at 18-21 but they could not stop Sada from taking the set.
Sunbirds showed a lot more purpose in the second set with outsider hitter Alain Junior from Cuba going for powerful spikes while the Russian Opposite Dmitriy Muserskiy opted to mix things up with some clever placement. Coupled with a strong defensive showing by the entire team meant that Sada could never open up a gap of more than two points.
The Brazilians were also guilty of wasting six set points with four of them going abegging due to service errors. It finally took an ace by Saatkamp following a service error from Kenji Sato to wrap up the set for eventual winners.
But Sunbirds staged a dramatic comeback in the third and then forced a decider with the Brazilians clearly under pressure.
It was a battle of nerves in the decider with Sunbirds first opening up a 5-2 lead only for Sada to win four straight points after taking a time-out to take the lead at 6-5.
The experience of Wallace, Lopez and the team then came to the fore as they wrapped up the set and the match.