With Italy playing without two key players Fatime Miryam and Paola Egonu, Thailand cruised past the formidable rivals in straight sets 25-13 25-21 25-20 at their last Pool H encounter of the 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix at the Hua Mark Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
With the sensational win, Thailand captured the top spot in Pool H with 7 points from two wins against one loss. Italy, the only team from Pool H to make the cut for the Final Six in Nanjing, China from August 2 to 6, came in second place with 6 points from straight two wins against one loss. Turkey and Dominican Republic finished third and fourth places respectively.
Against Italy, the team they had already beaten for the first time in history last year at the rivals’ home soil in Bari, Thailand entertained boisterous home fans with powerful cross-court attacks, beautiful drops, terrific jump serves and impenetrable defence in the opening set which helped them race to a wide margin 11-0 lead. The host side clinched the comfortable first set 25-13.
Their confidence boosted after the first-set win, the host side still took command in the second set, with veteran Pleumjit Thinkaow uncorking fast attacks and Pimpichaya Kokram and young Chatchu-on Moksri taking turns penetrating the Italian defence with their exceptional spikes. Italy tried to make amends, but Thailand held nerves and went on their dazzling form to take the thrilling set 25-21.
Italy fought hard in the third set, hoping to get the right things back on track. Anastasia Guerra became a serious threat for Thailand as she attacked powerfully and served well, assisting Italy to reduce the gap 16-20. Boosted by the noisily drum-beating fans, Thailand fared defensively and offensively well at the final assault to end the strong visitors’ challenge in the set 25-20 for a straight-set victory.
Pleumjit Thinkaow scored a team-high 14 points for Thailand, while Pimpichaya Kokram and Chatchu-on Moksri also scored double-digit points for the winning team contributing 13 and 12 points respectively. Anastasia Guerra led Italy with 10 points from 7 kills and 3 aces.
“I think we performed well today, thanks largely to all fans who cheered us all the way. My players also tried hard to play well without making hasty mistakes. Our serves were very impressive as our rivals found it hard to receive and counter-attack. In terms of the next month’s Asian Senior Women’s Championship and the SEA Games, I have to consult with all staff coaches and the Thailand Volleyball Association to make a final decision. After this, we have to let our players rest for some days before starting training in preparation for both competitions in August,” Thailand head coach Danai Sriwacharamaytakul commented after the match.
Earlier, Turkey put it past the Dominicans in straight sets 25-14 33-31 25-23. With both teams out of contention for a ticket to the Nanjing Finals in China, Turkey claimed their second win in this year’s World Grand Prix after a 0-3 demolition of Dominican Republic.
The convincing straight-set victory helped Turkey stretch the head-to-head battle to 5-1 against the Caribbean side, which claimed the only win over Belgium at the 2014 World Grand Prix.
Polen Uslupehlivan scored a team-high 19 points for Turkey including 17 kills from 36 attempts, while Meliha Ismailoglu contributed 14 points. Rodriguez Santos led Dominican Republic with 13 points including 12 powerful attacks.
At the end of their World Grand Prix campaign on Sunday, hosts Thailand finished 10th at the 12-team overall standing, a far cry from the sixth place they had earned last year when they automatically advanced to the Final Six in Bangkok as hosts.