Tainara rejoices after one of her three aces against China

In a Pool D match that is also likely to have an impact on the next phase of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022, Brazil inflicted first damage on China since the start of the tournament. At the GelreDome in Arnhem on Saturday, the South Americans came back from a set down to celebrate a 3-1 (23-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-22) victory.

China finished top of the pool on a 4-1 win-loss record, 12 points and 13-3 in sets. Brazil are second, separated from China only on set ratio (13-5). Japan are currently third on 3-1, nine points and 9-4 sets with a shot at the second place, while Argentina (on 2-2 and five points) are sure to finish fourth even ahead of the last two fixtures in the pool. Winless Colombia and the Czech Republic, who no longer have a shot at making it to the next phase, will meet at 18:00 local time (16:00 GMT) on Saturday in a battle for a first World Championship victory, while Japan and Argentina will shape up the final pool standings as they lock horns on Sunday at 14:15 (12:15). The top four teams from each of the four round-robin pools advance to the second pool phase of the tournament.

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Tainara Santos and Li Yingying scored 22 points each. The Brazilian opposite spiked for 19 points at a success rate of 53% and hammered three aces, while the Chinese outside hitter had 20 successful attacks, an ace and a kill block. On the South American side, captain Gabriela Guimaraes made 17 points, middle blocker Caroline Gattaz added another 15 and outside Priscila Daroit finished with 13. The only other player to reach double digits in scoring was China’s middle blocker and captain Yuan Xinyue with 14 points, including two aces and two blocks.

China entered the match on a 3-0 run and then, with Yuan leading the way, were able to hold off Brazil’s valiant attempts at a comeback not only to keep pace, but even to widen the gap to as many as seven points at 21-14. Even then the South Americans did not give up, however, and kept the pressure on. Two aces in a row by Tainara brought them back to within three at 22-19. Li brought in set point at 24-21. Twice the Brazilians were able to deny it before setter Diao Linyu’s block ended the set by the narrowest of margins, 25-23.

With Tainara serving, Brazil hammered out a four-point run from 2-3 to 7-3 in set two, including an ace for 4-3. Carol Gattaz kept landing her backslide-set attacks to help widen the gap and then aced herself for a 12-5 lead. Gabi also fired away to keep Brazil ahead. She brought in set point, which was then converted to a 25-17 win with a service error by China.

Set three was a spectacle of fantastic offensive and defensive actions on both sides of the net. A fierce and even battle for every point unfolded on the court. Li spearheaded the Chinese attack, while Tainara, Gabi and Pri Daroit were spiking away on the Brazilian side. Until 19-19, the only time the gap exceeded two points one way or the other was at 10-7 to China. But the epilogue was all about Brazil. Four in a row gave them a 22-19 lead, Pri Daroit brought in set point and it was again converted with a Chinese service error for 25-22.

Li scored directly from the end line early into the fourth set to level it at 2-2 after Brazil had taken a 2-0 lead. And that was the last time in the match the score was level. The South Americans took the next three points and never looked back. Despite some great Chinese efforts in blocking, the Brazilian spikers retained control for the rest of the set. In the money time, an off-the-block swing by Tainara delivered match point at 24-20. The Chinese took the next two points, including an ace by opposite Gong Xiangyu, but on the third opportunity to close the match, Carol Gattaz converted a brilliant overhead pass from setter Macris Carneiro to a 25-22 win.

“I am really, really happy! We knew it would be a tough game. To play against China is always so difficult. They are tall, they are strong and they came with all these victories that gave them confidence, while yesterday we lost to Japan. That’s why for us it was important to win this game today,” said Brazilian middle blocker Ana Carolina Da Silva after the match. “So congratulations to my team! Everyone who came in helped a lot, and this is the energy that we need for the tournament. Now we need to rest, think about the next opponents and then give everything we have. Every game is a final, so we need to be fit and we need to be wary, because we want to reach the final.”

The four teams advancing from Pool D, China, Brazil, Japan and Argentina, will join Pool E together with those advancing from Pool A – Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and the winners of Saturday’s fixture between Kenya and Puerto Rico, starting at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) in Arnhem.

Saturday’s programme also includes three Pool C matches in Lodz – Bulgaria vs Kazakhstan 3-0 (25-18, 25-22, 25-18), Germany vs Canada at 16:00 (14:00), and USA vs Serbia at 19:00 (17:00) – and three Pool B games in Gdansk – Thailand vs Dominican Republic 3-2 (31-29, 16-25, 21-25, 25-22, 15-11), Korea vs Croatia at 17:30 (15:30), and Poland vs Türkiye at 20:30 (18:30).