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Japan, Korea riding high at Asian Boys' U19 Championship

Korea came back from 0-2 to beat China 3-2
 Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, April 2, 2017 – On the final day of the Round of 8 Playoff matches at the SMM 11th Asian Boys’ U19 Volleyball Championship on Sunday, Japan brushed off Myanmar 3-0 at the Wunna Theikdi Indoor Stadium Hall B to top Pool E, while Korea roared back to defeat China 3-2 and top Pool F. 

Meanwhile, Australia surprised Thailand 3-1 and Iran edged Chinese Taipei in three close sets.

Japan 3, Myanmar 0 (25-15, 25-9, 25-16)
Unbeaten Japan, the 2014 silver medallists, won a lop-sided battle against the tournament hosts. They were led by left-hander Kento Miyaura and Mahiro Saeki in the first set, which they won by 10 points. They made several substitutions in the second set, including Yuji Nishida, and were strong in attack and defence as they cruised to a 25-9 score.

With their noisy, drum-beating supporters cheering them all the way, Myanmar led 7-5 in the third set, but Japan roared back to take the set 25-16.

Japan topped Pool E with nine points from three straight wins and are due to take on Pool F’s fourth-placed Chinese Taipei in Monday’s knock-out quarterfinals.

Shunichiro Sato led Japan with nine points, including six kill blocks. Tatsunori Otsuka contributed seven kills. Aung Saw Htet collected 10 points for Myanmar.

Japan coach Hiroshi Honda said service was the key: “We did well in serves, so we were able to play easily. In the second set, we changed several players not because we were sure of victory in the set, but we just wanted to change our rhythm after Myanmar came up with improved service. In the quarterfinals, we will play Chinese Taipei and I think they perform well defensively, especially their reception. It will be very difficult to beat them and our chances of beating them are just 50-50.”

Korea 3, China 2 (14-25, 23-25, 25-14, 25-23, 16-14)
Korea produced a magnificent come-from-behind victory over China to top Pool F. The tall China team included 204-cm Zhang Jingyin, 203-cm Xiu Chengcheng and the 199-cm Qi Qi in the crucial match to decide the Pool F winners. 

China’s exceptional teamwork, stuff blocks and devastating attacks led by Zhang proved too much for the Koreans early on and they went down 14-25 in the first set. Korea tightened their defence and fared better in the second set, but they were still a step behind their formidable rivals and China snared the close second set 25-23.

Korea stormed back in the third set. With ace spiker Im Donghyeok tearing the Chinese defence to pieces with his deadly attacks, Korea took the set easily 25-14. The fourth set was more thrilling when both sides poured everything they had to win the set. Im Donghyeok scored the last point for Korea’s 25-23 win.

In the do-or-die tiebreaker, both sides gave everything they had to win the set and the match, but Korea had the final say and won it 16-14.

Im Donghyeok scored a match-high 45 points for Korea including 40 kills. He also led the team in blocking and serving with two kill blocks and three ace serves. Zhang Jingyin led China with 19 points.

Korea’s team manager Ha Taemin expressed his satisfaction with his team’s win: “We won finally. It was quite difficult for us. I think we might play China in the final. After going down in the first two sets, we were under a lot of pressure. The Chinese are very tall with high blockers. Our wing spikers were frustrated by their blockers at the beginning of the match. We were relieved to win this. Against Myanmar in the quarterfinals it will also be an important match. Today, our statisticians and staff coaches had to work hard. We changed our tactics to attack China on the wing and it worked out pretty well.”

Australia 3, Thailand 1 (25-22 25-20 21-25 25-17)
Australia defied the odds to pull off a surprise win over Thailand in their last playoff encounter. Thailand beat Australia twice in training before the tournament. 

Thailand started dismally in an error-prone first set, which they dropped 25-22. This boosted the Australians and they had few problems taking the second set as they used their height advantage to block the Thais. Australia’s average height was 195 cm, while Thailand’s was 183 cm.
After Australia went ahead 9-4 in the third set, Thailand fought back gallantly to level the scores at 9-9 and take the set 25-21. However, the Australians weren’t to be denied and as they fought back, the Thais became error-prone again and the set and the match went to the Australians.

Australia’s Andrew McCaskill commented: “We played three very good sets and even though we lost one set, we still played very well. I think Thailand did not play their best today. We lost two games to Thailand during our training together in Bangkok, but they are a very good team. Like our team, they are very young. We can see they’ll be strong in a year’s time. We next take on the losers between China and Korea, but it’s just another day, another game. We will do our best.”

Iran 3, Chinese Taipei 0 (26-24, 25-19, 27-25)
Reigning champions Iran pulled off a hard-fought win over Chinese Taipei to complete their Pool F campaign.

Iran, who have won the title seven times, overcame a strong challenge from Chinese Taipei in the opening set, making use of strong attacks from Ali Tabari and Morteza Sharifi, who scored 25 points against China in their previous match.

Chinese Taipei upped their tempo and tried to hit back in the second set, but Iran continued their onslaughts to snare the set 25-19. Still they wouldn’t give up and their determination bore fruit when they took an 18-16 lead before earning setpoint at 24-23, but they weren’t able to close the set out. Iran roared back to catch up with their fighting rivals and held their nerve to win the set 27-25 and with it the match.

Morteza Sharifi led Iran with 16 points including 15 kills. Ali Tabari contributed 12 points through his attack hits. Kan Ming-Hsiu top-scored with 10 points for Chinese Taipei.

Iran coach Mohammad Vakili said: “Chinese Taipei are a strong team with experienced players. They have motivation, skill and good reception, so it’s a very difficult job for us to play them. We lost to China on Saturday and we had to beat Chinese Taipei. To do that, we had to analyse Chinese Taipei carefully so we knew what we had to do. It’s possible that we will take on Thailand in the quarterfinals, but I think Chinese Taipei are stronger than Thailand. To qualify for the World Championship, we have to beat Thailand on Monday.”

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