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Thailand and Japan to contest Asian Women’s Championship final

 
Thai players run thank their fans and celebrate qualifying for the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup in November
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, September 20, 2013 – Hosts Thailand dethroned reigning champions China on Friday in an epic, hard-fought, five-set thriller (19-25, 25-19, 25-22, 21-25, 16-14) to set up a final showdown against old foes Japan in the 17th Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship at Chatchai Hall.

The other semifinal saw Japan in awesome form as they powered past Korea in four sets: 25-22, 19-25, 25-19, 25-20. In the third-place playoff, the Koreans will take on China, who they lost to in straight sets in the round-robin quarterfinals.

The semifinal results mean Thailand have booked a spot at the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup since Japan are automatically qualified as hosts of the November tournament. The top teams from the continental championships of Asia, Europe, NORCECA and South America will join Japan and an FIVB selected team at the World Grand Chsmpions Cup. 

Thailand 3, China 2

Against world No. 5 China, the defending and 12-time champions who hadn’t lost a set en route to Friday’s semifinals, Thailand fielded a well-established line-up, five of whom played in the team that stunned China to win the Asian title in 2009. They included powerful attacker Onuma Sittirak, Pleumjit Thinkaow, Wilavan Apinyapong and setter Nootsara Tomkom.

Mighty China also had a formidable line-up in this action-packed encounter with the likes of “twin towers” Zhu Ting and Xu Yunli, and the hard-hitting Hui Ruoqi and Zhang Lei.

With more than 6,000 screaming home fans in the packed venue, Thailand came up with a gutsy display to match the incredible might of their much taller rivals, who used their height advantage to attack strongly and block effectively.

China silenced the cheering crowds with their exceptional form to take the first set 25-19, but Thailand counter-attacked gallantly to claim the second set by the same margin.

From the first two sets, both sides traded aggression with attacks and solid blocking. Onuma and Wilavan made an excellent combination to overpower the taller Chinese blockers, with their spectacular attacks helping Thailand win the hotly contested third set 25-22. Teenage sensation Zhu Ting, who led China to the FIVB Women’s Under-20 World title this year, helped China to a successful comeback in the fourth set.

The tie-breaker turned out to be clash of the Titans. Both sides poured everything they had into it. As China utilized their height and power at the net, the host side refused to give up. They put up an impenetrable defence, causing China scoring difficulties. After leveling at 14-14, Thailand remained in exceptional form. They brought up matchpoint on a lightning-fast Wilavan spike from the right wing. A few moments later, the home fans went wild when Pleumjit pounced on a flying ball with both hands at the net, dropping the ball onto China’s court, sealing both the set and the match. 

The Thai players ran to hug each other, dancing in a circle, while the home crowd roared and jumped with joy. There were smiles and laughter everywhere in the hall. The Chinese players left the court with their heads hung low in great disappointment.

Onuma Sittirak led Thailand with 31 points including 28 attack hits, while Wilavan Apinyapong assisted with 24 kills. Zhu Ting equaled the match high with 31 points for China.

For Thailand, it was sweet revenge as China, silver medallists in the recent World Grand Prix, had already beaten them twice this year.

“I would like to thank China for playing with their utmost effort against us,” said Thailand coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai. “My players learned a lot from this tough match against much stronger China. We next take on Japan in the final round. To advance to the final is a surprise beyond our expectations. Our initial target was to make it to the semifinals.”

After the match, China coach Lang Ping praised the Thais’ performance.

“Congratulations to Thailand,” she said. “They did a pretty good job. We tried very hard in this match, but we had a problem on passing. The Thai players have been playing together for a long time. Actually, we didn’t lose because we did not play well, but we played inconsistently; sometimes we played good and sometimes bad. We have to improve on ball control and some tactics.”

Asked if the noisy home fans affected their performance, the coach replied: “No. It’s normal. The tournament is held in their country and generally, a large number of home fans cheered them. To be a big, successful team, you must beat every team no matter what circumstances you are in.”

Japan 3, Korea 1

In the other semifinal, world No. 3 and London Olympic bronze medallists Japan had a close battle against Korea, who were led by star spiker Kim Yeon-Koung.

In this crucial match, Japan replaced Yukiko Ebata with left-hander Miyu Nagaoka and she did not let her supporters down.

The two sides started level, but Japan, led by Saori Kimura and Nagaoka, proved their class to take the hotly contested first set 25-22. Kim Yeon-Koung and Kim Heejin gave Korea a strong comeback in the second set to win 25-19.

The Japanese continued their incredible attacking, with Nagaoka tearing the Korean defence apart. Korea regrouped and fought back bravely, but their determination was in vain as Japan’s awesome form continued through the third and fourth sets.

Nagaoka top-scored with 27 points for Japan, while Kim Yeon-Koung led Korea with 22 points.

Playoffs

In the 5th-8th playoffs earlier, Kazakhstan, spearheaded by Tatyana Mudritskaya, overcame Iran in four close sets, 25-16 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, while Vietnam produced a magnificent come-from-behind victory to win 3-2 (19-25, 22-25, 25-16, 25-18, 15-13) over Chinese Taipei.

In other playoffs, Australia finished in ninth place after brushing off Indonesia 25-22, 25-17, 25-23, while Independent Team from India fought well to beat the Philippines 25-19, 25-22, 25-16 to claim 11th position.

Hong Kong battled it out against debutants Mongolia for 13th place and won 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-23, 25-18). Sri Lanka took 15th position following a magnificent 3-1 (24-26, 26-24, 25-23, 25-16) victory over Myanmar.

On Saturday, Chinese Taipei challenge Iran in the 7th-8th playoff and Vietnam fight it out against Kazakhstan for fifth place. China take on Korea in the third-place playoff and Thailand go up against Japan, the team they beat 3-1 in the quarterfinals, in the final showdown.

Match schedule

September 21, 2013

At MCC Hall

10.30am: 7th-8th playoff: Iran vs Chinese Taipei

12.30pm: 5th-6th playoff: Kazakhstan vs Vietnam

3.50pm: Bronze-medal match: China vs Korea

6pm: Championship match: Thailand vs Japan

Friday’s results

Semi-finals: Thailand bt China 3-2 (19-25, 25-19, 25-22, 21-25, 16-14); Japan bt Korea 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 25-19, 25-20)

5th-8th playoffs: Kazakhstan bt Iran 3-1 (25-16, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20); Vietnam bt Chinese Taipei 3-2 (19-25 22-2, 16-25, 18-25, 15-13)

9th-10th playoff: Australia bt Indonesia 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-23)

11th-12th playoff: Independent Team from India bt the Philippines 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-16)

13th-14th playoff: Hong Kong bt Mongolia 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-23, 25-18)

15th-16th playoff: Sri Lanka bt Myanmar 3-1 (24-26, 26-24, 25-23, 25-16)



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