If there’s anything that the first day of the AVC U23 Tournament proved, it’s that investing in any grassroots sports program really pays off. Two top-ranked Asian countries, Japan and Thailand, looked impeccable in their first matches while many Pinoys fans wished that the Philippines were bracketed with India and Macau instead. In this article, we run through all the first day matches with the exception of the Philippines-Iran game, click here for the recap.
First match: India overwhelms Macau 25-10, 25-14, 25-19.
India was just too tall and too powerful for an undersized Macau squad. India’s outside attackers were on full display as Macau’s blocking was virtually non-existent. Macau also let India’s Nirmala and Shyamala Poornima pour 17 and 13 easy points respectively.
However, India showed exploitable weaknesses in their relatively dominant play. Their service reception was spotty and they were often caught flat-footed when trying to move around the court. On the other hand, Macau’s services were sharp but it didn’t seem too loaded to make a decent pass to their setter. Given that they’re facing a relatively weaker team, India didn’t show intentions on going full throttle for the duration of the match.
Watching both teams play, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to think that the Philippines might have a chance to win either with one of them or even both of them. It goes to show that the teams really need luck with drawing their opponents in these type of tournament. Nevertheless, India will likely move on to the Top 8 after the win.
Second match: Razor Sharp Thailand dominates Uzbekistan 25-14, 25-10, 25-13
This is the type of match our local players should watch to get a feel for the pace needed to succeed internationally. Uzbekistan was the taller team but Thailand erased that advantage by keeping Uzbekistan’s lumbering giants on their heels.
With the Thais on-point passing allowing their setters to go for lower and quicker sets, their attackers easily converted with ease. Thailand also showed that high-ball sets are slowly becoming out-of-fashion and that volleyball isn’t just about having tall players anymore. On the other hand, Uzbekistan blockers just weren’t fast enough laterally to properly execute their attacks. It even leaving made their Libero-less back row helpless.
Thailand’s serving was relentless as well as all their players showcased sharp serves that feasted on the opposition’s vulnerable receivers. Likewise, Thailand’s breakneck pace caught Uzbekistan off-guard.
In addition, Thailand’s powerful open hitter and National Team staple Ajcharaporn Kongyot played splendidly within her team’s controlled chaos as she finished with 18 points. 20 year-old Thai setter, Pornpun Guedpard also showed a glimpse of why she has campaigned with their world-class senior team for a few years now as she let out an arsenal of beautiful sets even with her teammates’ bad passes.
The crazy thing is, the Philippines isn’t too far behind when it comes to average height with the Thais, they’ve just been training and participating in international tournaments together for a considerably longer time. They’ve been exposed to high-level volleyball since they were kids and the Philippines is just getting its feet wet when it comes to international competition.
Watching the Thais play volleyball was a revelation for everyone who watched them. Now that, was volleyball.
Fourth Match: Japan thrashes Maldives 25-4, 25-11, 25-3
Japan has been a world-class volleyball country for much of the past decade and given at how their Under-23 team looked, they’ll most likely stay perched on the upper echelon of the world rankings for years to come.
Japan’s match against Maldives, though, wasn’t a good barometer for Japan’s volleyball brilliance mostly because Maldives is maybe one or ten leagues below Japan’s level. The Japanese never broke a sweat against a smaller team that was also galaxies away in terms of skill level.
To illustrate how excruciatingly lopsided this match was, here are a few tidbits:
– Midway through the second set, Japan suddenly decided to stop spiking and to just go for drop balls to probably work on their off-speed hitting for later matches.
– At one point in the final set, Japan was up 20-0 before Maldives scored a point off a Japanese net error. Japan’s Namba Miku got six of her nine aces from that extended stint at the service area.
– Maldives ended the match with 18 total points, 11 coming off Japan’s errors.
– Miku led all scorers with 13 points while Maldives’ Team Captain, Aishath Majidah topped her team with three markers.
– There weren’t many takeaways from this match aside from Japan, like Thailand, just keeps producing world-class players annually. It would be premature to tab them as surefire medalists as there are still solid teams like China and Korea that haven’t seen action yet but we should get a better feel at just how good Japan is as they face tougher competition in the latter stages of the tournament.