The Thai hearts sank Wednesday night when their women’s national volleyball team went down to hosts Japan in a hotly-contested five-set thriller lasting nearly three hours amidst controversial referee’s decisions at the World Olympic Qualification Tournam
An heart-pounding 25-20 23-25 25-23 23-25 13-15 loss of the determined Thailand and a home team victory out of nowhere, one of the most incredible comeback amid drama not even Steven Spielberg would dare imagine, has the whole world gripped.
Thailand knew their chances of qualifying hinged on Wednesday night’s match, and in the first set they played accordingly.
They served well, attacked aggressively and blocked solidly, outplaying the home team from the very first point, opening up an early 5-1 lead, and then refusing to buckle when Japan kept climbing back into the set.
At 14-15 Japan took the lead briefly, but the fully-fledged Thailand fought back mightily to turn 15-16 into 18-16, and then 21-18, 24-19 and eventually 25-20.
The digging of Thailand, led by libero Piyanut Pannoy, was a sight to behold, with Japan’s waves of attacks blunted.
Setter Nootsara Tomkom was replaced midway through the set, but Pornpun Guedpard proved she is more than a useful replacement for the highly-experienced Nootsara.
The second set was full of the action-packed activities, tense, and incredible entertaining. It had everything – brilliant rallies, incredible individual performances, even high drama when the new technology seemed to leave everyone nonplussed!
Both teams threw everything at the set, trying to break their oppositions in a match that could ultimately decide which team go to the Olympics.
Japanese coach Masayoshi Manabe went for the most experienced team he could possibly muster, including 2012 Olympic star Saori Sakoda, while Thai head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai fielded the 16-year-old Chatchu-On Moksri into the match at a crucial stage, and persisting with second setter Pornpun.
Japan eventually took the second set 25-23 and Thailand put on their superb performance for a 25-23 win in the third set.
With another capacity crowd mostly roaring on the home team and a solid pocket of very vocal Thai supporters in the crowd, the Japanese incredibly fought their way back to win the fourth set 25-23 as the roar from the crowd threatened to blow the roof of the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
The fifth set, by any measure, was one of the most incredible sets of volleyball most fans will ever see. Thai captain Pleumjit Thinkaow was an inspiration for Thailand, leading the team to wrap up at 9-3.
The loss of awareness in the FIVB new technology brought with it a heavy price for Thailand; the first red card came when they were leading 12-7. But instead of concentrating on sealing the game, the team became distracted and continued to argue with officials, doubtful why the touch-screen tablet was not working at the time when they wanted to either replace a player or challenge through an hawk-eye instrument. The second red card was inevitable; it came when Thailand was trailing 12-13 and the red card meant one point handed to Japan. Leading 14-12, the host side allowed the visitors one more point to capture the dramatic set 15-13 and the match.
Saori Sakoda scored a game-high 24 points, while Pleumjit Thinkaow led Thailand with 21 points.
The Thai players leaving the court in tears told the story as their chance to go to their very first Olympics had been dealt a severe blow. Actually, their Olympic chances remain, but dim hopes they will have.
At the press conference, Thai head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai said, “Everyone in my team did her best. They are all my heroines. From now on, we have to do our best in the remaining three matches. I admit that this is my first time in my coaching career that I really don’t know how the new technology for referee decisions has been working despite the fact that we studied it before how it works. I don’t know what I did for a mistake that ended with a red card given to me. I just asked the second referee why the touch-screen tablet is not working why we attempted to replace a player with another one. We touched the screen twice. but it did not work again. Nothing appeared. As I tried to ask the second referee what happened with the tablet, the first referee gave me the red card. That’s why we lost the chance although we tried to compete with sportsmanship. We did not take advantage over the rivals and we respect the referee’s decision, but I just want to know what I did anything wrong. I would like to say that the new technology of using the tablet has been not working since the first day of the competition and I have already reported to the Control Committee and the organisers that the new system is not working properly, but nothing changed.”
Thai captain Pleumjit Thinkaow said in tears, “It’s one of the most memorable matches my team and I have experienced. We did our best, but I have never thought before that we had been given a biased decision. It’s unfair for us. I think the tablet is not working properly and when we tried to explain to the officials that the system is malfunctioned, they did not listen to us and in return gave us the red card, claiming that we tried to delay the game. However, we will try to do our best in the remaining matches.”
Back to the hotel, Thai assistant coach Nattapon Srisamutnark, who carried the tablet during the match and was the one dealing with it, said, “I touched “challenge” on the tablet, but it did not work and the referee did not allow us to challenge what we had suspected if that point should be won by Thailand as the Japanese initially took it. While we tried to field Thatdao Nuekjang to replace another player on court, I touched the “change” screen, but it did not work again. I just wondered what happened with the tablet controlled by officials, mainly the Japanese.”
Thai team manager Pisit Nuttee said he has consulted with many Thai technical officials who learn well how the system is working and who disagreed with the referee’s decision that the red card should not be given in crucial moments which could determine the winner of a do-or-die match. Pisit has confirmed to write an appeal letter to the FIVB, the world’s volleyball-governing body, the Control Committee and the organising committee in Japan for further investigation.
Following the controversial match between Thailand and Japan, tens of thousands of internet users from around the world watching the match live worldwide put the blame on the Mexican referee L.G. Macias, who officiated the match, on FIVB Facebook and his private Facebook as well. Some commented that FIVB should take action for the controversial match, while some cursed the referee and the others suggested he call it a day from his refereeing career.
Thai volleyball fans also condemned the biased officiating of the referee and posted on their Facebooks “No Spirit” on Japanese flags to mark signs of dissatisfaction over the controversial match Thailand had lost to Japan which they claimed it “unfair”.