Iran made a clean sweep of straight-set victories in Pool B of the 2021 Asian Men's Volleyball Championship, beating Pakistan 25-20, 25-19, 25-15 in Chiba, Japan.
Saber Kazemi made the biggest contribution to the defending champion’s triumph on Tuesday with 18 points, followed by skipper Milad Ebadipour, who chipped in 13.
The result saw Iran and Pakistan join Chinese Taipei and South Korea in Pool F of the quarterfinals, where Behrouz Ataei’s men will only square off against the two East Asian sides, with the top two of the group heading into the semifinals.
Iran had routed Hong Kong and Thailand earlier in the competition.
“Today’s victory was an important one for us as the top spot of the group was at stake. We now have a full assessment of our players after three games,” said new coach Ataei, who has picked a new-look side for the competition, selecting only five players from the side that failed to progress beyond the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics in July.
“Pakistan was a better opponent, compared to Hong Kong and Thailand, and put more pressure on us, but we managed to control the game. We played with different tactics throughout the match today, which will help us in the next stages.”
Speaking of the two opponents in the quarterfinals, Ataei said, “Chinese Taipei and South Korea play with high tempo and are good in reception, so we will have to deal with those qualities.
“The first three games served as preparatory matches for us, and I hope we deliver even better performances further in the tournament,” added the Iranian, who led the country to a memorable world under-21 title in 2019.
Replacing Russian Vladimir Alekno after the Olympics, Ataei is the first Iranian in charge of the national team in 11 years – and only the second in two decades.
Iran is seeking a fourth Asian trophy, having won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2013, before beating Australia on home soil in the 2019 final.