Defending champions Serbia started their title defense at the Women’s Volleyball World Championship with a win here on Sunday, downing Canada 25-23, 25-16, 25-20.

Serbia outscored their opponents in all aspects, with attacks 40 to 31, blocks seven to six and aces nine to four. Tijana Boskovic, MVP of the last tournament in 2018, came back with a strong performance after sitting out of this year’s Volleyball Nations League, scoring game-high 23 points to lead her team to victory.

“It’s always important when we get to start a tournament the way we did today,” Boskovic commented. “I think we played well as a team and had good energy, but the goal is to keep improving in every match and reduce the mistakes. My last tournament with the national team had been last year’s European Championship and I’m really happy to be back.”

Outside hitter Brankica Mihajlovic added 10 points, and middle blocker Jovana Stevanovic contributed a match-high four blocks in her eight-point performance.

With all six Pool C teams having played their opening matches, Serbia share top spot in the pool with Olympic champions the United States. Earlier in the day, Germany defeated Bulgaria 25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21 and currently rank third in the pool.

The top four teams in the pool will advance.

Germany did well in defense in their clash against Bulgaria, as middle blocker Marie Scholzel produced as many as six of the team’s 12 blocks. Camilla Weitzel, Hanna Orthmann and Lina Alsmeier all finished with 13 points.

In Pool D, China claimed a comfortable 25-23, 25-22, 25-20 victory over Argentina in one hour and 27 minutes on Sunday to share top spot with Japan, who eased past Colombia 25-20, 25-22, 25-17.

Despite the absence of star outside hitters Zhu Ting and Zhang Changning, the 2016 Olympic gold medalists dominated their opener, as 22-year-old spiker Li Yingying scored a game-high 22 points, including 19 from attacks and two from blocks. Wang Yunlu added 11 and captain Yuan Xinyue collected eight.

“We went into the match with a good mentality. As it was our first game here, we need some time to get used to the tournament,” said Li after the win.

“We’re aiming for a medal, even the gold. But we should play our games one by one. I need more matches to improve and learn from the best players in the world,” she added.

Two-time champions China last won the tournament in 1986, making the final in 2014 in Italy before losing to the United States 3-1.

Opposite Erika Mercado led the charge for Argentina with 15 points, and outside hitter Daniela Bulaich Simian added 13.

China did better in defense, leading 9-3 in blocks, especially in the second set when the world No. 4 side pocketed six points from blocks with Yuan contributing three.

China will face Colombia on Tuesday, and Argentina will meet Brazil on Monday.

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