Canada has advanced to the FIVB World League men's volleyball finals for the first time after a dramatic five set victory over Japan (25-23, 23-25, 25-27, 25-18, 15-7) in their last preliminary round match.
It was a sixth consecutive win for the Canadians (8-2) and they will be one of six countries in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for the finals July 17-21.
"We reached our big goal for this season," said Canada's head coach Glenn Hoag. "It's easy to say but a lot harder to do. This is a big step for us. The guys worked hard and improved through the process. They never flinched under the pressure today. I was really impressed."
Dallas Soonias of Red Deer, Alta., led the Canadian attack with 24 points while Rudy Verhoeff of Calgary and Gord Perrin of Creston, B.C., added 18 each.
"The stress level was pretty high," said Canadian team captain Fred Winters. "When we fell behind 1-2 in sets we were aware that we could potentially squander our chance to be in the final. But we knew Japan couldn't keep that pace and in the end we got them."
The 24th FIVB World League, which offers $5.7-million (U.S.) in prize money, features 18 teams split into three pools of six that compete in a five-round, 10-match format.
The top two teams from Group A and B also advance to the six-team finals, along with host Argentina. The other two groups conclude their preliminary rounds next weekend.