World No 12 volleyball team Thailand defied noisy host fans to cut a towering Kazakhstan team down to size and emerge as Pool A winners in the 3rd AVC Cup for Women in Almaty, Kazakhstan on late Wednesday night.
Unbeaten Thailand survived a sturdy challenge from the hosts to fight back for a 3-1 (23-25 25-22 25-23 25-21) victory to end their pool preliminaries with a clean sweep of wins and nine points. Kazakhstan were second with six points.
South Korea, fourth place in the London Olympics, overcame Taiwan in a hard-fought five-set thriller 20-25 25-22 22-25 25-21 18-16. The Koreans finished third in Pool A with two points, with Taiwan fourth position with a single point.
Consecutive two-time champions and the current Asian winners China fielded a below-strength side but still thrashed hapless Iran in straight sets 25-10 25-10 25-10 to top Pool B with nine points.
In-form Vietnam pulled off an incredible 3-2 (20-25 25-23 17-25 25-13 17-15) victory over Japan, the bronze medalists in the London Games which fielded their second-string players in this biennial tournament. Replete with their first stunning win ever over the Japanese side, Vietnam finished second in Pool B with five points. Japan were in third position with fourth points.
Yesterday was the rest day. The cross play-offs start today, with Thailand taking on Iran, China challenging Taiwan, Kazakhstan going up against Japan and Vietnam facing South Korea. The four winners will then advance to the semi-finals tomorrow.
“In the previous match against Kazakhstan, my players struggled to win the match. The hosts came up with improved tactics and techniques this time. It’s hard to beat them. Aside from their height advantage, which they utilised in blocking us effectively and attacking aggressively, they’ve learned the Asian styles. They played with a variety as we did before – mid-court spikes, deceptive attacks, solid blocks and good defence,” Thai head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai commented.
“That’s why my girls found it very difficult to win this match. I think we still have many things to improve ahead of crucial matches in this tournament, especially in the semi-finals and the showdown. We have to play more carefully and can’t underestimate any team,” he added.
The tournament has been regarded as the Asian qualification event for the next year’s FIVB World Grand Prix. The top two teams from this AVC Cup (aside from China and Japan, both automatically qualified) will make the cut for the star-studded, month-long tournament.