Nakhon Ratchasima - A spectacular performance from Hande Baladin sparked Turkey to a hard-fought victory over a gallant Thailand in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Wednesday.
Coming off the bench, the wing spiker gave Turkey a lift as they claimed a 3-1 (25-20, 30-28, 18-25, 25-19) win but were pushed to the limit by the brave hosts. Thailand have lost all five matches in the on-going home swings and fall to No 15 in the 16-team League standings.
Fending off a brave challenge from the home side, Turkey overcame a third set wobble as their innate firepower eventually proved too much for Thailand, who have won just twice in the VNL to sit 14th on the overall rankings.
With two four-set wins in the fourth phase, Turkey move to 8-3 and are in position to reach the final round.
Turkey made a spectacular start through the high-flying Boz who hammered home an emphatic kill to immediately quiet the home crowd. With Gunes serving with menace, Turkey stormed to an early lead with the first four points as they looked a class above their opponents who are ranked 16th in the world.
Thailand tried gamely as evidenced by a desperate dive from Moksri into the bench but Erdem's deft touch at the net ensured Turkey enjoyed a healthy 8-2 edge at the first technical timeout. In an effort to take the crowd out of the contest early, Turkey looked sharp and on their game but Thailand showcased tenaciousness to cut into the deficit.
With a superior height advantage, Turkey were hard to pass at the net but Thailand's quickness and sets around the court ensured they were more than competitive as the standard lifted to thrill the near capacity crowd. Severely challenged, Baladin provided a spark off the bench with a couple of thunderous kills and Turkey, who never trailed, rediscovered their groove to eventually close out the first set in 24 minutes.
Turkey continued to dictate in the second set with cunning serving from Gunes troubling Thailand who once again were in an early hole. Just like the first set, Thailand clawed back into the contest to level the scores but Erdem was proving the difference with an imposing spike followed by consecutive unreturnable serves to restore Turkey's dominance.
However, Turkey were gifting points through several service errors ensuring the match remained competitive but Thailand could not string together points. A terrific stuff block from Pleumjit reduced the margin to just one point as scores see-sawed during a tense passage of play but, frustratingly for their fans, Thailand could not nudge ahead.
Turkey's formidable size at the net resisted Thailand's artillery but the plucky hosts finally broke through after winning a heart stopping rally to lead 20-19 - their first advantage of the match.
Thailand were on the brink of claiming the set until a thunderous spike from Gunes levelled scores at 24 apiece and Baladin did likewise moments later to save another set point. However, Thailand would not be denied and saved three set points but Turkey eventually pulled it out on the fourth attempt much to the disbelief of the rabid crowd.
In a bid to finish off the match in straight sets, Turkey - in trademark fashion - started the third set with gusto to skip out to a quick three-point lead. As had become a trend, Thailand sparked back into life rattling off three straight points punctuated by a booming spike from Pleumjit as the hosts took an 8-7 edge at the first technical timeout.
For the first time Thailand led by more than one point when a leaping Pleumjit hammered a spike to give her side an 11-9 edge. In a mirror image of the second stanza, points were see-sawed but Turkey's errant serves were proving costly and Thailand made them pay to skip out to a 17-13 lead.
Suddenly, Turkey were unable to string together points as their muscling blows were being impressively rebuffed, most notably by setter Pornpun Guedpard. Thailand deservedly wrapped up the stanza through a terrific block from Malika Kanthong as spectators jumped out of their seats.
Shrugging off their third set stumble, Turkey regrouped to take a quick 6-1 lead as they shook off their waywardness that marked the previous stanza. Sticking with the script, Thailand mounted their customary comeback with four straight points to take a 10-9 as fans were starting to believe in their dogged team.
Amid a swirl of anticipation, Turkey dug deep and through clutch serving from Gunes they closed in on a hard-fought triumph. With two of their defeats having gone the distance, Turkey were relieved to wrap it up when a Gunes block sealed the deal.
Turkey play Korea on Thursday, while Thailand faces rejuvenated Japan to close out the fourth phase.
Turkey Head Coach Giovanni Guedetti said: “First of all, I have to congratulate Thailand. They always play amazing offense in volleyball. I think they’re the best team in the world when it comes to running side-out attacks. There is no other team in the world that can run side-outs after good reception better than Thailand. That’s why the match today was very, very, very complicated for us. Last year, we lost in one hour against Thailand. But this year, the situation was different so I’m happy that we have improved. But still, our blocking was really not clever enough, good enough, and expert enough to play against Thailand.”
Thailand Head Coach Danai Sriwacharamaytakul: “I think it was a good match for us today.Turkey prepared their homework well to play against us. They served very well with powerful attacks in the first set which made it hard for us to defend.But we were able to play with our own game, our combination plays in the second and third sets which we could score many points.But in the fourth set they put pressure on us with their effective serving and they improved their defense and blocking. I hope my young players will gain good experience from today’s match. I am glad that some of players were able to play with their own form today. We will try to put more efforts and reduce easy mistakes to play against Japan tomorrow.”