Serbia, Italy complete Tokyo 2020 puzzle
Serbia staged a fourth-set comeback against Poland to punch their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. They received a special Daruma doll, which will keep a watchful eye on the team on their year-long journey to the Japanese capital.
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 to secure their Tokyo 2020 berth with an epic 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-16, 25-23) win.
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 were far more efficient when it came to the crucial points of the fourth set.
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.
Italy last in
Italy became the last team of the weekend to make the Tokyo 2020 Olympics 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.
Paola Egonu was on fire again, scoring 27 points - more than a third of Italy's total - and attacking in the low 50s (25/47 for 53%).
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 semifinals.
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 again in the fifth 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 kept the points coming in for Russia with 20, 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.
It will be Russia's 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.
USA follow suit in Louisiana
Just a little later, across the Atlantic in Lousiana, USA claimed the fourth ticket of the weekend to Tokyo 2020 with a clean sweep of Argentina 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-13) 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.
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 in the day in Ningbo
Earlier on Sunday, China had 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 were amazingly solid on the net. 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.
China coach Lang Ping did not make use of a sole substitution throughout the game - in contrast to 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 lineup, will be filled in January through qualification tournaments at continental level.
• qualifier from Africa
• qualifier from Asia
• qualifier from Europe
• qualifier from NORCECA
• qualifier from South America
The men's qualification process for Tokyo 2020 begins on Friday in six pools across the world for the first six tickets to be handed out.
FIVB.com - Tokyo Volleyball Qualification
FIVB.com - Volleyball
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