Iran foils USA's Manila debut

Iran foils USA's Manila debut
UPSET. After losing their last eight matches, Iran finally scored a win in four sets against crowd-favorite USA. / CONTRIBUTED

Iran spoiled the much-awaited Manila debut of crowd darling USA, pulling off a 26-28, 25-23, 25-18, 26-28, 15-13 stunner for a stellar maiden win in the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) Men’s Week 3 on June 19, 2024, at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Winless in their first eight matches, the Iranians finally broke through at the expense of the mighty Americans for a 1-8 slate at joint 15th place with Turkey.

Iran’s herculean victory mirrored Germany’s upset over reigning Olympic gold medalist and this year’s Summer Games host France, 25-23, 25-27, 25-20, 25-23, in the first game of the thrilling second day of VNL’s Week 3 before the finals later this month in Poland.

Spiker Poriya Hossein Khanzadeh Firouzjah and captain Milad Ebadipour Ghara conspired with 23 and 20 points, respectively, for the world No. 17 Iran.

“This is the most difficult game to start the third week and play USA, which is one of the best teams in the world. We’re so happy to win against one of the biggest teams like the USA,” said Ghara.

Iran dropped the first set via a close margin but snatched the next two from the United States to move on the verge of a triumphant upset only in four sets only to fumble a golden opportunity.

Two straight service errors haunted Iran late in the fourth set, paving the way for USA’s escape act through an off-the-block hit by TJ DeFalco to forge a rubber match.

But the Iranians saved their best for last, recovering from a near meltdown after wasting a 9-6 lead as the Americans stormed back to within 13-14 with yet another DeFalco attack, only for Firouzjah to seal the deal.

World No. 5 USA, which is preparing for the Paris Olympics as one of the seven qualified teams, took a costly defeat to stay at 12th place with a 3-6 slate entering its last three matches.

Only the Top 8 teams from the VNL will qualify in the Final Round next week in Poland.

Iran eyes to catch another big fish in France at 11 a.m. on Friday while USA seeks vengeance against Brazil at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Earlier, five players hit twin digits led by Gyorgi Grozer with 21 points on 18 hits, two aces and a block as the Germans improved to 4-5 to stay in the thick of the race for a Top-8 finish and a ticket in the finale.

World No. 9 Germany tied the eighth-running Cuba in points (12) for the last slot in the final round as Grozer drew ample support from Moritz Reichert and Lukas Maase with 12 points each as well as Tobias Krick and Tobias Brand with 10 points apiece.

“I believe that we really had an amazing week in Japan (last leg) that led to this performance and our main players are coming back. We’ve been playing without them. I can see that our game is going up,” said coach Michal Winiarski, whose wards went 2-1 in Fukuoka earlier this month to stay afloat after a sluggish start.

Jean Patry, Trevor Clevenot and Yacine Louati rifled in 20, 16 and 10 points, respectively, but their efforts went for naught in France’s costly defeat to fall at No. 5 with a 6-3 slate.

A win by the world No. 7 France could have pushed them to solo third place for a safer chance in Top 8 but instead allowed a window of opportunity from trailing Japan (6-3) and Canada (5-4) as well as Cuba and Germany in the airtight race to the top.

Germany takes little to no break with another crucial outing against Canada at 11 a.m. on Thursday as France returns to action with vengeance on mind against Iran at the same time on Friday. / PR

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