Lausanne, Switzerland, December 23, 2015 - For the first time in three decades USA claimed a World Cup title in Japan - plus an all-important direct ticket to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The Americans were sailing through the competition and were undefeated in eight matches when they came up against Poland on the final weekend in Tokyo.
Poland themselves were unbeaten in eight matches, but they had been dropping sets here, there and everywhere - and that became their undoing when the final count was made and the final ranking was sorted on set-averages.
Italy, a loser to USA early on in Hiroshima 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 29-27), also came into the equation. Especially after they had just demolished reigning Olympic champions Russia 3-0 (25-14, 26-24, 25-18) just a few short hours before that USA v Poland game.
USA celebrate victory over Russia together with Ambassador to Japan.
Russia, although now on two defeats, could still hope that they would defeat USA on the penultimate day and somehow manage to save the season under new management following a disastrous World League run earlier in the year.It was not to be, though. USA simply destroyed the Russians in straight sets (25-23, 26-24, 25-17) and put a foot in through the door of the 2016 Olympics.
On the presumption that USA would defeatArgentina on the closing day to claim gold, focus shifted to Italy and Poland, who needed to decide amongst themselves who would follow USA to Rio. It was a morning match, just after breakfast time and Poland didn't seem like a morning team that day. Italy just overwhelmed them 3-1 (26-24, 22-25, 25-22, 25-19), to claim the first of the two tickets to Rio - regardless of what happened elsewhere on that last day.
Devastated, Poland could only hope that Argentina could pull off the upset of the year (though there was precedent, from the 2014 World Championship in Poland). But, although the South Americans certainly didn't make it easy, USA professionally clinched the very last and 66th game in the tournament 3-1 (25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 25-20) to lift the trophy aloft and start packing for Rio.
That point scored by Erik Shoji (though it was correctly registered as an error from Argentina) was just one of many moments when individuality shone in this tournament.Probably the most astounding individual performance was that of Australia's Thomas Edgar when he scored 50 (!) points against Egypt - an astonishing all-time record.
But amongst the top teams, it was the star of USA's Matt Anderson that shone (and captured the hearts of a fan or two), as he led an all-star Dream Team as Most Valuable Player of the tournament.