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Thailand down Vietnam, reach world finals

Thailand yesterday secured their berth in the FIVB Women's Volleyball World Championship in Italy next year with an easy 25-17 25-12 25-18 victory over SEA Games arch-rivals Vietnam.

Thailand had six points from victories over Australia and Taiwan and badly needed another win over Vietnam in the World Championship Qualification Asian Zone Final Round Pool A at the Park Arena Komaki in Nagoya, Japan.

Thailand, world No 16, fielded their well-established line-up of Onuma Sittirak, Pleumjit Thinkaow, Malika Kanthong and Nootsara Tomkom, while Vietnam also fielded their strong players, who represented Lienviet Bank that beat Thailand League champions Idea Khonkaen in this year's Asian Women's Club Championship in Vietnam.

The Thai squad launched themselves into powerful jump serves and spectacular attacks through Onuma and scintillating blocks by Nootsara and Pleumjit to win the first two games 25-18 25-12.

Thailand continued their onslaught in the third game, but this time Vietnam did not give up easily. They put up an impassable defence and attacked fiercely through Pham Thi Kim Hua, Do Thi Minh and Nguyen Thi Xuan. After a brief rally in the middle of the game, Vietnam narrowed the margin 9-11 and 14-15.

However, Thailand started to deliver. Onuma and teenaged talent Thatdao Nuekjang took turns in penetrating the rivals' defence with exceptional shots to help Thailand eventually capture the game 25-18 and the match.

"I want to thank my players and the coaches in helping the team accomplish its goal. We played well in this match, but Vietnam showed that they cannot be taken for granted. They are a strong team. Now, we have a year to prepare for the World Championship Finals in Italy. We have to be at our best to compete against the world's best teams out there," said Thai head coach Kiattipong Rachatagriengkai.

"We face Japan in our last match on Sunday. They are the strongest rivals in the group and beating them will be very difficult. However, form is in our form and we will do our best." Thailand will go up against hosts Japan, world No 3 and bronze medallists in the London Olympics, to determine the Pool A winners. The match is schedule for 12pm Bangkok time.

This is the fourth time that Thailand have made it to the World Championship Finals. They finished 15th in their debut in 1998. In 2002 in Germany, Thailand finished 20th, while in 2010 in Japan, they returned with 13th position. They failed to qualify to the Finals in 2006.

Meanwhile, Thai men's spikers yesterday came from behind to beat Kuwait 3-1 (25-27 25-14 25-18 25-14) to collect their first three points in the FIVB Men's Volleyball World Championship Qualification Asian Zone Final Round Pool A at the AIS Arena in Canberra, Australia.

Despite the win, the chances of Thailand, who went down to Kazakhstan in straight sets on Friday, making the cut for the Finals in Poland next year, are dim. Today, they challenge hosts and world No 12 Australia. Only the winners of the pools advance to the Finals.


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