June 22, 2012 00:00
By Preechachan Wiriyanupappong
Hosts Thailand will take on old foes Argentina and reigning champions US face European champs Serbia in a reprise of last year's semi-finals in today's FIVB World Grand Prix Pool J at the Thai-Japanese Stadium, Din Daeng.
Riding the crest of a wave with six straight wins, including a dramatic 3-1 victory over Olympic champs Brazil last weekend, USA will battle Argentina, Serbia and hosts Thailand in the tournament’s third and last weekend, to determine the five best-ranked sides plus hosts China for the Ningbo Finals from June 27 to July 1.
Thailand stand a good chance of repeating their feat last year with a berth in the Finals. With 14 points from five wins, including an epic five-set triumph over hosts and world No 3 Japan in front of their home crowd in Nagoya last weekend, Thailand are now two wins away from going to the Finals for only the second time.
“We expect tough matches here. This tournament serves as our final tune-up ahead of our London Olympics campaign. We also hope that we can advance to the Ningbo Finals,” USA head coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
“Destinee Hooker [who won the MVP award last year and is currently the tournament’s top scorer] is not here. She returned to the USA,” he added.
Serbian head coach Brako Kovacevic said: “Teams taking part here are much stronger than us. Many players in my team will be missing here, some of them due to injury.
Young players will replace them. However, we will do our best.”
Argentinean head coach Horacio Bastit also reckoned that the other three teams are stronger than his side, but is determined that his players put on a good show.”
On Thailand’s prospects, head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai said “After the previous two weekend matches, many of my players were suffering fatigue and tense muscles, so, they got acupuncture treatment.
“We will try to win as many matches as possible. I hope my team can make it to the Finals for the second time in a row,” he added.
Today, the USA take on Serbia at 1.30pm, while Thailand play Argentina at 4.30pm.