It was all smiles for Serbia and Italy on Sunday as they were the last two teams to advance to the women’s volleyball tournament of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after completion of the weekend’s qualifiers across the world.
They join Brazil, China, Russia and USA who had earlier booked their places, plus Japan who were qualified by default as hosts.
Poland gave reigning world champions and Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallists Serbia a run for their money in Wroclaw, but the Balkan side came from behind in the fourth set to secure their Olympic Games berth for next year with an epic 3-1 win (21-25, 25-23, 25-16, 25-23).
Poland, who originally led 1-0, were poised to force the game into a tie-break when they led 16-21 in the fourth. But Serbia reacted with a 4-0 run to close in to within a point, and another 5-1 from 20-22 down; all five of the last points on attacks by Tijana Boskovic.
Boskovic shared top-scoring honours with Poland’s Malwina Smarczek at 27 points each, but Serbia was more decisive when it came to the crucial points of the fourth set. The result means Serbia will be at the Olympic Games for the fourth time in their history having been present in all editions since their first appearance at Beijing 2008.
— Volleyball World (@FIVBVolleyball) August 7, 2019
Italy became the last team of the weekend to be heading for Tokyo after they fended off a last-ditch attempt by the Netherlands to stay alive in the race, completing a 3-0 (25-23, 25-17, 25-22) sweep. It will be Italy’s sixth appearance at the Olympics, all in a row since their debut in Sydney 2000 – though they have never made the semi-finals.
Russia was on the brink of crashing out in front of their home crowd in Kaliningrad after they found themselves trailing Korea 0-2 and 18-22, but they recovered to register an astounding 3-2 sets win (21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-16, 15-11) that sees them through to compete in Tokyo.
Korea blew their chance to finish the match in straight sets, when at 18-22 in the third set Russia finally reacted with a 7-0 run, incredibly including five blocks and one attack by Irina Fetisova, to stay alive in the game.
The four-time (including as USSR) Olympic champions cruised in the fourth set to force a tie-break, but once again in the fifth set Korea had the upper hand, switching courts with a two-point advantage and holding on to that with their sideouts until 9-11. It was another incredible 6-0 run by the Russians that brought it eventually home, including four attacks by Irina Koroleva and an ace at match point by Irina Voronkova.
Nataliya Goncharova registered 20 points for Russia while Fetisova registered a total of eight blocks. Kim Yeon Koung, the MVP of the London 2012 Olympics, scored a match-high of 25 points, but she will now have to lead her side again for a second shot at Tokyo 2020 through the Asian qualifiers in January.
For Russia however, next year will be their 14th appearance at the Olympic Games, having only missed Los Angeles 1984 due to the Soviet boycott in all the editions since the introduction of volleyball to the Olympic programme in Tokyo 1964.
The USA claimed the fourth place of the weekend to Tokyo 2020 with a clean sweep of Argentina 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-13) in Louisiana that left the North Americans undefeated. Jordan Thompson with 16 points led the Americans who came from behind in the first set but sailed through the other two.
The USA will be appearing at the Olympics for the 11th time. They have three silver (Los Angeles 1984, Beijing 2008 and London 2012) plus a bronze last time around in Rio 2016 but an Olympic gold still eludes them.
Earlier on Sunday, China secured their presence in Tokyo 2020 to defend their women’s volleyball Olympic title from Rio 2016, after they decisively shut out Turkey 3-0 (25-18, 25-12, 25-18) at home in Ningbo.
China’s captain Zhu Ting, the Rio 2016 MVP, bagged a match-high 20 points, with a 56% (15/27) attacking efficiency plus three blocks and two aces. And Zhang Changning added another 16 points with an attacking ratio of 61% (11/18) plus four blocks and one ace.
A curious statistic from the match saw China coach Lang Ping not using any of his available substitutes throughout the game, this in contrast to his Italian counterpart Giovanni Guidetti who tried every single player he had at his disposal and in numerous combinations, though to no avail.
Two-time Olympic champions Brazil had been the first to grab a berth in Tokyo 2020 after a dramatic win over the Dominican Republic in five sets at home in Uberlandia on Saturday.
The last five remaining berths to make up the 12-team Olympic line-up will be filled in January through qualification tournaments at the continental level.
The men’s qualification process for Tokyo 2020 begins on Friday in six pools across the world for the first six places.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Women’s volleyball tournament qualifiers:
• qualifier to be decided from Africa
• qualifier to be decided from Asia
• qualifier to be decided from Europe
• qualifier to be decided NORCECA
• qualifier to be decided from South America