Spirited Thailand, trailing 11-14 in the tie-breaker, pulled off a miraculous escape to stun Japan in a five-game thriller and capture the Pool F title in the World Grand Prix Preliminaries on Sunday night.
The dramatic 3-2 (25-15 16-25 22-25 25-19 18-16) victory was the first time that Thailand had beaten Japan away from home. It also brightened their chances of making it to the finals in Ningbo, China, from June 27 to July 1. The world’s top 16 teams are competing in the three-week preliminaries, with the top five plus hosts China qualifying for the finals.
As battle raged in the Japan-Thailand clash, four players from each side hit double digits in scoring. Japan were led by Yukiko Ebata, who scored 22 while for Thailand, Pleumjit Thinkow, Onuma Sittirak and captain Wilavan Apinyapong bagged 16 each.
After four sets of fast and frenetic volleyball, Japan looked poised to deliver the knockout blow. An aggressive mid-court spike from Ebata made it 14-11 for Japan and it was all over bar the shouting for the visitors. But Thailand unleashed their never-say-die spirit to first hold the hosts then surge in attack, eventually taking the set 18-16 and the match 3-2.
“I’m glad that we won such a tough clash. Japan played with plenty of aggression and were quick in execution. They fielded new players and our girls had some difficulty reading their game plan. We fared well in the first set but made too many mistakes in the second and third. Fortunately, we recovered fast to win the remaining two sets,” said Thai head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai.