NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand, September 13, 2007 - Unbeaten Japan captured the Asian crown for the first time in 25 years following a scintillating come-from-behind 3-1 (22-25 25-16 25-18 25-16) victory over Kazakhstan on the final day of the 14th Asian Senior Womenís Volleyball Championship.
China finished on second place, Thailand won the bronze medal and will go to the FIVB Volleyball World Cup 2007, since Japan is already qualified as host country and China (in the Beijing entry list for the same reason) cannot participate in any qualification tournament.
It was the Japanís third victory in the Asian meet. They landed their first title in the inaugural Asian Championship, which was held in Australia in 1975. In 1979, China stunned the reigning champs to win their first crown in the Asian meet. However, in 1983, the Japanese took the home crowd advantage to regain the lost pride by winning the crown.
From 1987 to 2005 in Taicang, China had shown their supremacy over the biennial tournament to capture their successive 10-time title. However, it was a sorry tale for the Chinese as they arrived in Nakhon Ratchasima, only to see the closest rivals Japan take away the title.
Thailand, which already finished third in 2001 and 2003, but a disappointing sixth in Taicang, improved their fortune to come in third place overall.
South Korea finished fourth, with Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei in fifth and sixth places respectively.
Having been coaching the Japan national team for five years, Shoichi Yanagimoto finally kept his promise to steer his team to the top level of the podium. Dropping only a single set to Thailand en route to a 3-1 win over the host team in the round-robin top eight teams, a fired-up Japan on Thursday lost the hard-fought opener 22-25 to Kazakhstan, strengthened by powerful Yelena Pavlova.
Japan, which finished third to China and Kazakhstan in the previous edition in Taicang, stormed back mightily to take the following three sets 25-16 25-18 25-16 and the dramatic 3-1 triumph, thanks hugely to the splendid offensive combination of Miyuki Takahashiís deadly cross-court spikes and solid blocks from Erika Araki and Saori Kimura.
"Itís a great success. Iím very happy that Japan can eventually end the gold-medal drought in the tournament. It was not only a sweet victory for us, but also our good preparation for the World Cup and the World Olympic Qualification Tournament," Japanese head coach Yanagimoto commented.
"As far as Iím concerned, Asian teams have been tremendously improving their forms. Iím also pleased with the upgraded form of my team in the tournament.
We next go back to our country and undergo intensive training in preparation for the major two competitions," he added.
With a clean sweep of seven victories in the final 1st-8th round to collect 14 points, Japan underlined their supremacy over the 14th Asian Championship. Kazakhstan had to be content with the fifth place in the biennial tournament after having 10 points from three wins against four losses.
South Korea had 11 points from four wins against three losses to finish fourth overall in the championship. The Korean squad fielded not-so-tall players, but possessed more individual talents in their last match against Australia on Thursday.
After winning the comfortable 25-17 win in the opener, the Koreans made the most of spectacular spikes from powerful Bae Yoo-Na and Han Yoo-Mi to beat the Aussies 25-13 25-7 and the effortless one-sided battle.
Australia did not beat any team in the ranking 1st-8th round, collecting seven points from seven straight losses to finish eighth in the tournament.
The centre of attention was tremendously paid in the eye-catching clash between the Olympic champions China and hosts Thailand. China, propelled by the formidable line-up which included Yang Hao, Zhou Suhong and Xue Ming, utilized their height advantage to overwhelm the home girls 25-18 in the opening set.
Backed by a noisy drum-beating, flag-waving section of more than 3,500 crowd jampacking the MCC Hall inside The Mall Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand were close on the heels of the crack Chinese in the second set.
As China, whose height average is 185cm against the rivalsí 176cm, fielded the awesome foursome Ė Yang, Zhou, Liu Yanan and Zhang Yuhong, all of them played in the team which won the Olympic title in Athens in 2004, Thailand matched them competitively which saw the lead change hands for several times. Exploiting the greater experience, China proved their class to win the hard-fought second set 28-26.
The third set remained closely contested. A determined Thailand poured everything in the fierce battle, with Onuma Sitthirak and Pluemjit Thinkaow smashing thundering spikes from all angles. However, the Chinese were just devastating. Technically and tactically, they controlled the whole game to claim the set 25-19 and the match.
China had 13 points from six wins against one loss to Japan to finish second in the tournament, with Thailand in third place with 12 points following five wins against two losses.
"Iím not happy with the win over Thailand. Actually, I had set an initial target that my team would take home the successive 11-time Asian crown. Unfortunately, my girls did not live up to my expectation as they suffered the bitter loss to Japan in straight sets. Thatís a disappointing form my team had shown so far. We next have only one ultimate dream in mind Ė to defend our Olympic title on home soil," an upset Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe said.
The last match of the round-robin tournament saw Chinese Taipei in unbeatable form as they thrashed Vietnam without much trouble 25-16 25-20 25-21. Chinese Taipei collected nine points from two wins against five losses to finish sixth overall, while Vietnam had eight points from one win against six losses to be placed seventh.
1. Japan (14 points from seven wins);
2. China (13 points from six wins and one loss);
3. Thailand (12 points from five wins and two losses);
4. Korea (11 points from four wins and three losses);
5. Kazakhstan (10 points from three wins and four losses);
6. Chinese Taipei (9 points from two wins and five losses);
7. Vietnam (8 points from one win and six losses);
8. Australia (7 points from seven losses);
10. Sri Lanka;
11. New Zealand;
1. Best Scorer: Yeleba Pavlova (Kazakhstan)
2. Best Attacker: Xue Ming (China)
3. Best Blocker: Pleumjit Thinkaow (Thailand)
4. Best Server: Saori Kimura (Japan)
5. Best Digger: Wanna Buakaew (Thailand)
6. Best Setter: Nootsara Tomkom (Thailand)
7. Best Receiver: Yuko Sano (Japan)
8. Most Valuable Player: Miyuki Takahashi (Japan)
RANKING FOR QUALIFICATION OF 2007 WORLD CUP, 2008 WORLD OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION, 2008 WORLD GRAND PRIX (Ranking 1-6 except matches against China and Japan)
1. Thailand (10 points from all five wins)
2. Korea (9 points from four wins and one loss)
3. Kazakhstan (8 points from three wins and two losses)
4. Chinese Taipei (7 points from two wins and three losses)
5. Vietnam (6 points from one win and five losses)
6. Australia (5 points from five losses)