RPC beat Italy for fifth place, Rwanda ends Tokyo campaign with historic win

RPC closed out their first Paralympic Games with a victory over another debuting team Italy in four sets. The win ensures the world champions of a fifth place finish in Tokyo.

Rwanda, on the other hand, ended their winless run in the Paralympic Games with their straight-set win over Japan. The Rwandans competed at Rio 2016 and finished eighth overall without any set victories.

“It’s our first time at the Paralympics. We just got acquainted with the Paralympic world, we have just entered it. We really enjoyed taking part in the Paralympic Games. One of the most important moments was the group stage classification,” Yulia Mednikova said.

It was a rematch of the 2019 European Championship final where Italy earned their tickets to the Paralympic Games, and both squads are entering with only one win in the competition so far.

Italy had a shaky start to the opening set, allowing RPC to score consecutive points. Both teams were tentative for most of the set and took a while to get their groove. Italy entered the second technical timeout leading 16-14 before pulling away to with five straight points to get themselves at 21-24. With RPC refusing to go down, it took the Italians six set points before closing the opening frame 25-22.

RPC regrouped in the second set but still far from their full potential at the start. Both teams went neck and neck before Italy broke the deadlock at 10-10 and surged ahead to a 16-12 lead. They continued to press on and found themselves closer to a 2-0 set lead with some great blocking from Giulia Aringhieri to stay ahead 20-14. Confusion between the Italian players saw RPC come back and get closer at 21-19. A serving run from Irina Smirnova put the RPC ahead until they broke another 23-all deadlock to win the set 25-23.

RPC started playing like their old selves in the third set and took an early 12-6 lead. They continued the set how they started but Italy came back to get themselves behind only by two points at the second technical timeout. RPC continued to stay ahead at 21-19 before closing the third set with a similar score line 25-23.

RPC were ahead once again in the fourth set but the Italians continued to fight back. RPC eventually pulled to a 16-5 lead until they closed out the set 25-14 and win the match 3-1.

“Being our first time here in the Paralympics, sometimes our spirit will go up and go down, and we have to try to be in the same line always. We will take the experience and continue trying and trying,” Aringhieri said.

Meanwhile, Rwanda recorded its first win in the tournament at the expense of hosts Japan 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-22) to finish seventh overall.

“We are very happy to get our first win in the Paralympic Games. Our first objective now when we return to our country is to prepare for Paris 2024. We have to work hard to get more supporters who will help us continue our sitting volleyball programme,” Rwanda coach Jean Marie Nsengiyumva said.

After a trade of points in the opening set, Rwanda responded better on defence while their rivals suffered on a series of errors. Rwanda kept their lead as they had an answer for every point by Japan, prompting the latter to put in new players on the court to spark a fresh run. Rwanda were already up 20-15 when Japan managed to control their own game but that could not even stop their rivals in closing the set at 25-19.

The second set saw both teams trying to outdo each other, but Rwanda eventually got the upper hand and led as much at five points at 18-13. Japan tried to make a two-player substitution to change the pace of their game, but Rwanda captain Liliane Mukobwankawe was instrumental in getting her team ahead. Japan reduced the lead by one point at 21-20, but Rwanda still prevailed at the end of the second set 25-22.

A similar trend occurred in the third set, as the teams were put in an exchange of points, until Rwanda shifted to a higher gear and be more aggressive at the net on offence and defence. Rwanda closed set and match 25-22 to earn their historic victory in the Paralympic Games.