Asian Volleyball Championship:

Iran survives early scare against Iraq, will face Pakistan in knockouts

Iran had to rally from a first-set upset to defeat Iraq 3-1 (19-25, 25-12, 25-15, 25-14) in Urmia’s Ghadir Arena and win Pool A of the Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship.
The defending champion, which eased past Hong Kong in straight sets in its opening game, will take on Pakistan in the first round of the knockout stage – comprising 12 teams – today.
Pakistan was beaten in four sets (26-28, 25-20, 32-30, 25-22) by South Korea earlier on Monday but still managed to progress from Pool F, thanks to a three-set victory over Bangladesh on the preceding night.
Prolific opposite-spiker Amin Esmaeilnejad chipped in a game-high 16 points for Iran against the western neighbor, with middle-blocker Mohammad Valizadeh finishing on 11.
“We underestimated Iraq in the first set, which is a weak spot for us. We can’t afford to repeat those mistakes in the future games,” said Iran head coach Behrouz Ataei, whose team is chasing a fifth title at the competition.
“Our tactics didn’t really change in the following sets. We just played with more intensity and won by a high margin. We need to keep delivering our routine performance in every game till the very last point,” added Ataei, who led his side to the 2021 Asian crown with a final victory over host Japan on his debut on Iran’s bench.
“The Iraqi players gave it their all today and that’s why we were caught off guard in the first set,” Iranian setter Mohammad-Taher Vadi said, while praising the “superb” home support in the packed Ghadir Arena.
Having stepped into the event on the back of a disastrous campaign in July’s Volleyball Nations League – finishing third from bottom in the 16-team table of the preliminary round – Ataei’s men will be looking to bounce back with the Asian trophy on home soil ahead of late September’s Olympic qualifiers in Rio de Janeiro.
Japan, which beat the reigning world champion Italy to the bronze medal in the VNL Finals, remains the favorite to walk away with the ultimate prize next Sunday.
The outcome of the tournament will contribute to the teams’ status in the FIVB World Ranking – a decisive factor in the qualification process for next year’s Games in Paris – which convinced Japan to name a full-strength squad, including the formidable trio of Yuki Ishikawa, Ran Takahashi, and Yuji Nishida, for the visit to Urmia.
Japan overcame Thailand and Uzbekistan without conceding a single set to top Pool B and is expected to come out victorious against Bahrain today.
Iran and Japan will not go head-to-head before the final showdown.
Elsewhere in the knockout phase, China will play India, with South Korea facing Indonesia.
The winner of the two games will meet on Thursday for a last-four place against Iran or Pakistan.
In the other half of the draw, Iraq and Qatar will square off against the Chinese Taipei and Thailand respectively, with one of the four teams playing Japan or Bahrain in the semifinals.

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