by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
The desire can be seen in the reaction of their supporters with the chanting of “Nippon, Nippon, Nippon” ringing loudly around the hall.
Equally the reaction of the usually very quiet, thoughtful and stoic head coach, Yasukazu Murakami, reflects that he is the leader of a group with a definitive mission.
Usually he sits quietly, a minimal flicker of emotions, the message he sends without uttering a word is that of stability.
In Rio de Janeiro he is the reliable figure, the man in whom you can trust; during a match the players turn to him and they know they have a mentor sitting courtside who wants them to win.
However, there is a difference; when Mima Ito and Ai Fukuhara secured the last point to clinch victory in the doubles against Li Qiangbing and Sofia Polcanova (11-5, 11-12, 11-7, 12-10), he leapt from his seat in such a manner that he would undoubtedly have gained a place in the national Volleyball Team.
Equally, as he led his team around the hall to exit the auditorium, the smile was bright and radiant.
Furthermore, he had every right to leap in the air, every right to smile, every right to accept the plaudits of the Japanese supporters; several being Brazilian who warmed to the efforts of the petite trio.
He had prepared his team and guided his team to success against one of Europe’s best.
Ai Fukuhara, reportedly 25 years after the day when as a three year old she played in her first tournament, gave Japan the perfect start. She beat Sofia Polcanova (11-8, 11-9, 11-8), before Kasumi Ishikawa doubled the lead by overcoming Liu Jia (8-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-7) and set the stage of Ai Fukuhara and Mima Ito.
“This is my first time playing Polcanova, so I didn’t know how the match will end up, I was only thinking about playing my best in the match. Mima and I watched match footages last night and this morning, so we are well prepared in the doubles match too. I started playing table tennis when I was three, and I have played for 24 years. Today marks the start of the 25th year, it’s like a table tennis birthday to me!” Ai Fukuhara
The semi-final fixture involving Japan is scheduled for 10.00 am on Monday 15th Augusts.