A gallant Australian men’s volleyball team has lost to Japan in five thrilling sets in front of thousands of fans at the FIVB World League finals on the Gold Coast.
There was nothing between the two teams all night, with the helloworld Volleyroos twice clawng their way back into the match, only to fall short by the narrowest of margins to the reigning Asian champions.
The result means Australia will now take on Netherlands on Sunday for the bronze medal, while Japan will meet the impressive Slovenians for the gold medal and the World League Group Two title.
Australia found itself trailling for most of the opening set, however solid work from the team’s most capped player, Nathan Roberts, saw the team edge back to win important points late to win 25-23.
Japan dominated the second set 18-25, but the third set was much tighter, the visitors eventually prevailing 23-25 to take a 2-1 lead.
An enthusiastic crowd helped lift the Volleyroos in the fourth set, with captain Paul Carroll and his Berlin teammate, Libero Luke Perry, showing their class to help Australia take the set 25-22 to level the match at 2-all.
The fifth set went point-for-point, with the Australians leading early, before Japan levelled up at 8-all. From that stage it was an arm wrestle, Japan eventually holding its nerve to win 16-18 and 3-2.
“It was a great match today, with great atmosphere here in the gym,” Australian coach Mark Lebedew said.
“We were a little bit up and down on both sides, but I think we really fought really hard to come back after two sets that weren’t really good. The team had great spirit and willingness to fight.
“We ended up being unlucky, but we played a great game today. I am really proud of the guys and the way they stuck with it in difficult moments.
“It will be good for us as we go into the future.”
Roberts finished as Australia’s highest point scorer with 24, while Carroll had 22.
“It’s pretty disappointing after beating Japan in China last week,” Carroll said.
“We had very good confidence but they made some good plays. This match could have gone either way, but it was disappointing that we couldn’t win it in front of the home crowd.”
In the earlier match Slovenia, the reigning European silver medallists, were too strong for fellow Europeans Netherlands, winning 25-15, 32-30, 25-20.
Australia take on Netherlands at 1:40pm local time Sunday, with the gold medal match set down for 4:10pm.