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Suntory Sunbirds fight back to clinch bronze medal

BALBIR SINGH | December 11, 2023 06:48 AM

BENGALURU: Suntory Sunbirds of Japan fought back from two sets down to beat Turkey’s Halkbank Spor Kulubu 3-2 to win the bonze medal in the Volleyball Men’s Club World Championships here on Sunday.

Sunbirds, the first Japanese team to play in the Club World Championships, looked down and out after the first two sets. But they kept their nerves and showed the presence of mind to capitalise on their opponent’s mistakes to create history at the Kormangala Indoor stadium.

The Asian Champions won 17-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-12 with Russian Opposite Dmitriy Muserskiy playing a key role in the victory by scoring a total of 30 points.

Sunbirds, who had beaten the Turkish outfit 3-0 in their first group stage match on the opening day, struggled to find any co-ordination in the opening set and one wondered if the Japanese side had not really recovered physically and mentally from the 2-3 semi-final loss against Itambe Minas on Saturday night.

Sunbirds defence was completely out of sorts in the opening set and even skipper Masaki Oya’s setting wasn’t up to the mark. He failed to create enough spiking opportunities for Muserskiy and Cuban Outside Hitter Alain Junior.

In contrast, the attacking combination of Mert Matic, John Gordon Perrin and skipper Nimir Abdel-Aziz were clinical with their spikes as Halkbank raced through the opening set.

Sunbirds did find their feet in the second set and put up a better show. Muserskiy and Alain Junior were much more involved in the attack and that allowed the Japanese team to keep pace with their opponents till 23-23.

But Nimir then came up with a check-out to give his team their first set point and a quality double block ended Sunbirds resistance in the set.

However, with the finish line just a set away, errors started to creep into Halkbank’s game and Sunbirds, who are also the Asian champions, were ready to grab that opportunity.

Muserskiy led Sunbirds’ charge with eight points and also helped with back-court defence to force the match in the fourth set.

Errors continued to hurt Halkbank in the fourth set as mistakes from Matic and Nimir gave Sunbirds early lead. Setter Micah Ma’a was also guilty of playing too many balls to Perrin in Zone 4 and the Japanese outfit read the situation well to take control of the set.

The decider was a battle of nerves and Sunbirds players had a more stable head on their shoulders. The Japanese team preferred to choose safety over winners on serves and created enough chances for Muserskiy, a former Olympic gold medallist, to breach the Halkbank defence.

It was Muserskiy who found the winner after Halkbank had saved two match points and left Halkbank players, who made a total of 43 errors in the match, wondering what they could have done differently after winning the first two sets.

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