The Nation



Thais fight hard but fall to big guns of USA

Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong smashes at the net.

Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong smashes at the net.

The USA clinched two wins from two at the World Grand Prix finals yesterday by smashing the challenge of rising Thailand 3-1.

The defending champions recorded a 25-18 27-25 18-25 and 25-18 victory in less than two hours.

Both teams battled hard from the start, with a serving error by Nootsara Tomkom of Thailand handing USA a narrow 8-7 lead at the first timeout. Cynthia Barboza then struck from the left to extend the lead to 10-7.

Thailand coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai called a timeout in a bid to break the momentum, but to no avail. Danielle Scott-Arruda led the US team with two kills to stretch the gap to six points, forcing Kiattipong to call a second timeout in under five minutes. The US team maintained their six-point lead and never looked back.

The second set was more fiercely contested as Thailand boosted their attack with the 1.80-metre Pleumjit Thinkaow manoeuvring the Thais to an 8-6 lead. Then, trailing 16-19, USA's Megan Hodge hit back with two kills and a block to help her team to a 22-19 lead.

Thailand saved two set points but an unstoppable spike from wing-attacker Tayyiba Haneef-Park won the second set 27-25.

In the third, Thailand reinforced their defence and arrived at the second timeout 16-12 ahead. With the devastating spikes and precise serves of spiker Onuma Sittirak tearing open the US defence at the net, Thailand won the set 25-18.

USA refocused on defence and went 8-5 ahead in the fourth set before Thailand managed to level at 13-13. But their disadvantage over the net raised USA to 16-14.

The US team turned back to attack to enlarge the gap to 23-17 before Haneef-Park earned a match point at 24-18 which was clinched with a Thai error.

"The USA were at 100-per-cent strength," said Thai coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai. "But it's great to take on the world's best team." USA coach Hugh McCutcheon praised the Thai team: "They are a strong volleyball outfit. It wasn't easy for us to beat them. Earlier yesterday, Turkey outclassed off-form Cuba in straight sets, while hosts China were to take on Brazil in the late match. Today, it's Thailand v China, Brazil v Cuba and Turkey v USA.

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