Japan eye women's volleyball Olympic berth

Hosts Japan are hoping home advantage in the final Olympic women's volleyball qualifying tournament starting Saturday will help them secure a berth at London 2012 as they bid to end a 28-year medal drought.

Eight countries -- Japan, Cuba, Peru, Russia, Serbia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand -- will play in the nine-day round robin tournament in Tokyo, all chasing the final four of 12 women's volleyball spots in London.

The top three teams and the best Asian side other than that trio will book the tickets, with the event also doubling as Asia's continental elimination round.

Already qualified for London are hosts Britain, the top three teams at the 2011 World Cup (Italy, United States and China) and the winners of the other continental qualifiers -- Algeria, Dominican Republic, Turkey and Brazil.

"Absolutely, our goal is to qualify at the top of the table although I know other Asian powers will also be desperate," Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe told Japanese media.

Japan, the 1964 and 1976 Olympic champions, will be seeking their first medal since bagging the bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Japan are currently third in the world rankings and the highest placed among the eight teams.

But European champions Serbia, ranked sixth, could pose a threat to the hosts, whom they beat in straight sets at the 2011 World Cup.

Japan have also struggled against world champions Russia, ranked seventh, over the years.

Russia, who defended their world title in 2010, are the most decorated women's team in the Olympics with four gold medals and two silvers they won as the Soviet Union.

But Japan finished third at the 2010 world championships and fourth at the 2011 World Cup in which they beat Brazil and the United States.

"We are much closer than ever to the world's top teams," Manabe said. "The mindset of our players has changed."

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