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China, Iran claw their way to gold medal match

n's Hamid Hamoodi sprawls to return the ball against Bahrain
It took all their skill and reputation for China and Iran to fight their way to Saturday’s gold medal match at the 17th Asian U20 Men’s Volleyball Championships in Bahrain.

It’s the final that most people were hoping would occur, but there were anxious moments for both on semi-final day.

China v Korea 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-17, 26-24)

China blocked its way into the final of the U20 Championships in a pulsating four-set match against fierce rivals Korea.

The tall timber of China – five players taller than 200cm - proved too much for a Korean side that showed its straight sets win over Japan 24 hours earlier was no fluke. 

The Chinese scored a stunning 19 points from blocks – seven from Zheija Zhang alone.

It was the Koreans who looked more ready for the big occasion early, refusing to cower in the face of China’s powerful defence and attack. When the first set was there to be won, it was Korea that held its nerve, while China made mistakes.

China fought its way back in the second, and then cruised through the third, before faltering once again in the fourth.

Korea should have leveled the match there and then, but couldn’t seal the deal.

Korean captain Donggeun Jeong said the effort that went into beating Japan on Thursday had taken its toll.

“Yesterday we achieved our goal to beat Japan,” he said. “I used all my power yesterday, so physically and mentally I was tired, but I did my best.”

Korean coach Jinsoo Noh said giving up two set points to lose the match was disappointing.

“We know the Chinese team is tall, taller than the Koreans, and I think concentration was a problem,” he said.

Chinese coach Genyin Ju once again singled out players he thought had not played well, but also highlighted who he thought had stepped up.

“Today we had a problem with our number 11, Runtao Xia, but we replaced him with Guanghui Yu and he played really well,” he said. “Tomorrow we hope we can put on display all our skills and our tactics to show everyone our best.

“Sometimes we’ve played well. Our younger players are unsteady, maybe they lack concentration.”


Iran v Bahrain 3-1 (25-14, 21-25, 26-24, 25-15)

Spurred on by the biggest crowd of the week, and growing in self-belief, host nation Bahrain threatened to pull off the biggest upset of the Asian U20 Championships when it pushed heavyweights Iran to four sets.

Many thought Bahrain had played its final on Thursday, when it beat Chinese Taipei to qualify for the top four and next year’s U21 World Championships.

In today’s first set it looked the case. But maybe at the change of ends the team noticed the big crowd who had come to watch their new heroes on centre stage.

Suddenly Bahrain was once again a team brimming with confidence, pulling off audacious moves and confounding their much more highly credentialed opponents.

With the second set safely tucked away, Bahrain then went about building a lead in the third. That it couldn’t hold it is more a result of Iran’s determination than any fault of the hosts.

By the fourth set, the race was on. Iran cruised to a win with one eye on the gold medal match-up with China.

“Bahrain lost today, but they showed they are a very good team, a very strong team,” Iran coach Nafarzadeh Farhad said. “All players are prepared for this tournament, and I am sure they will be fresh, strong and fighters.”

Bahrain coach Ali Ridha said a very good team defeated his team.

“We played two very good sets,” he said. “Iran has more experience than our team, they have a good team, they are taller than us – they are strong. They know when they get to 20 points how to win a set.”

Bahrain will take on Korea on Saturday for the bronze medal.


Chinese Taipei v Thailand 3-1 (28-26, 25-16, 20-25, 25-18)

Chinese Taipei was devastated after losing in four sets to Bahrain 24 hour’s earlier, crushing its dream of a top four finish and a start in next year’s U21 World Championships.

But there were no signs of a disappointment hangover for Chinese Taipai, as they went on the offensive from the start. 

Thailand had the unfortunate experience of drawing Iran in its quarter final, and was hoping to find Chinese Taipei much more to its liking.

It was a much closer contest for the Thais, but in a match where the statistics finished almost even; it was Chinese Taipei’s serve which may have been the difference.

Hsing-Kuo Lee finished with an impressive 26 points for Chinese Taipei, while Thailand’s Chakkit Chandahuadong was equally as impressive with 24 points.

Chinese Taipei will play Japan for fifth, while Thailand takes on Qatar for seventh place.


Japan v Qatar 3-1 (19-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-18)

Still defeated from its surprise straight-sets loss to Korea the day before, top seeds Japan were knocked down again in the opening set against Qatar.

An injury to star Qatar player Ratmt Wadidie in the second set seemed to change the momentum. Although Wadidie was able to continue, Japan had been awoken from its slumber.

Early in the match Japan had tried to blast its way past the Qatar block, but with little success, a change of approach helped turn the tide.

Coupled with its powerful, consistent serve, Japan wrestled control and earned the righto play Chinese Taipei for fifth place.

Yuki Ishikawa added to his already impressive scoring tally in Bahrain with another 19 points against Qatar, while Qatar’s Ratmt Wadidie was restricted to just 13 – his lowest return of the tournament so far.


Kazakhstan v Sri Lanka 3-1 (25-20, 17-25, 25-22, 27-25)

While a thriller was unfolding on centre court, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka were staging their own bare-knuckle brawl on court two. 

Sri Lanka is one of the most improved teams at these Championships, which the team showed by taking the fight up to Kazakhstan and stringing together several good points.

Denis Kucherov picked up 18 points for Kazakhstan in little over two full sets on court. Coincidentally, those two sets were the crucial final two when his team sealed a close match.

Sri Lankan captain Naddepa Lakshan picked up another impressive 18 points.


India v Saudi Arabia 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-23, 25-18)

Two teams who both probably expected to do better in Bahrain came together looking for the right to play off for a top 10 finish. 

India had not finished in the top two of the very difficult group, and the team almost had this match stolen again.

After scraping together a first set win, Saudi Arabia played the type of volleyball missing from earlier parts of its week to take the second.

But with captain Khoiwai Chandra providing a steady hand, the Indians held their nerve to win the third, before running away with the fourth set.


Hong Kong v Kuwait 3-0 (25-16, 25-15, 25-22)

The battle for places 17 and 18 at this year’s Asian U20 men’s championship brought together two teams yet to win a match in Bahrain.

Despite that record, both teams are unlucky not to get an opportunity to play for a higher standing. The late withdrawal of Australia and Pakistan meant uneven groups, with the bottom teams in the two five-team groups automatically playing off for positions 17 and 18

Hong Kong especially could consider themselves done, by having been drawn in the toughest group in Bahrain, and having taken sets off both Iran and Turkmenistan.

Hong Kong looked the more desperate of today’s two protagonists – even more so when it took a 2-0 lead over Kuwait. Despite a more spirited effort in the third set, Kuwait had few answers. 

Hong Kong captain To Sik Lok continued his outstanding Championship with another 11 points.

The result means Hong Kong officially finishes 17th  and Kuwait 18th.


Turkmenistan v Uzbekistan 3-1 (25-22, 26-24, 21-25, 25-14) 

The battle of two of Central Asia’s up-and-coming volleyball nations was, as expected, spirited.

Uzbekistan was hoping for a first win, while Turkmenistan wanted to put a disappointing 3-0 loss to Saudi Arabia the previous day behind it.

In the battle of the captains, Turkmenistan’s Didar Nuryyev finished with 19 points and Uzbekistan’s Islomjon Sobirov 16.

Uzbekistan will now play Maldives for 15th place, while Turkmenistan takes on New Zealand for 13th.


New Zealand v Maldives 3-0 (25-17, 25-14, 25-12)

Another two teams without a win yet in Bahrain, the New Zealanders came into the match after just losing a five-set thriller to Kazakhstan that could have given them a shot at a top 10 finish.

Maldives came into the match having shown steady improvement since scoring a total of just 18 points against Thailand.

The Kiwis looked determined from the outset, and besides a blip at the start of the third set, were always in control.

Top NZ point scorer Max Schroder sat most of the match out, while for Sri Lanka, captain Hassan Nilaam once again led the way with eight points.

New Zealand now plays for 13th, Maldives 15th.


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