It’s amazing how the top teams of this tournament have consistently churned out one classic match after another. Word to the locals, indulge as much as you can with the remaining matches of the tournament. It’s rare that we get to host the best teams of any sport on our home floor, so enjoy the tournament while it lasts. You can imagine that yesterday’s games were the spicy appetizers to the gut-wrenching main course we’re going to have today. Now, let us run through the rest of yesterday’s matches.
MATCH 1: KAZAKHSTAN DEFEATS MALDIVES 25-10, 25-4, 25-8
You have to feel for the Kazakhs, since nothing has gone well for them for the first few days of the tournament. Already playing with a depleted lineup, they’ve had to deal with playing the host country and its raucous crowd, as well as fight for their lives against an Iran team that had the luxury of a one-day preparation prior to their match. Their stay in the Philippines hasn’t been kind to one of the most feared teams in Asia. Hopefully, their win against Maldives left them with better memories of their time here.
Maldives, as they have been in the entire tournament, struggled mightily to produce points. Only three players provided the offensive power for the team, contributing nine attack points and four aces.
Moreover, Kazakhstan really wailed on their vertically-challenged foe, which led to their best outing of the tournament. They pulled significant contributions from everyone they fielded, and chalked up 33 attack points, 12 aces, eight blocks and only 10 errors. Sadly though, Amanda Villanueva’s long-lost Kazakh sister, Yana Yagodina, did not play because she needed rest. Nevertheless, the Kazakhs are the favorites to top the bottom classification phase, and eventually land ninth place at the tournament.
MATCH 2: CHINESE TAIPEI HAND IRAN ITS FIRST LOSS 25-17, 25-21, 25-17.
This match gave us an apt preview of the blistering pace Taiwan can play at. Their floor defense frustrated the a solid Iran team, as they managed to weather a lot of Iranian surges. Taiwan, like Japan, was devastating from the service area, This caused a struggle for the Iranian service reception with their ball control leading, which gave free balls that Taipei feasted on. Overall, Taipei outperformed Iran offensively as the former earned 53 points off their own offensive merits, while the latter only managed 34.
Iran, however, continued to receive a splendid all-around effort from their team captain, Mahsa Saberi, who delivered 9 points, 4 digs, and 7 excellent receptions. Meanwhile, middle blocker, Roosta Mina, topped Iran with 11 markers. No doubt, Iran is going to need to shore up their floor defense against Japan today to avoid the way on how the Taiwanese caught them flat-footed.
In addition, Taipei will be an incredibly tough challenge for the Philippines because they have the exact same strengths that Japan had. Furthermore, in their four games played this tournament, all six of their starters have scored in double digits. Their serving gave the defensively sound Japan problems that the Japanese eventually figured out on the fly. That being said, the Philippines need to turn around their subpar receiving performance within 24 hours. Today is going to be another uphill battle for us, luckily the host team is filled with players used to going up and down from the hill.
Match 3: China hulks up late, beats Korea 24-26, 23-25, 25-21, 25-21, 15-8
Most of the time, we dread having to watch five-set matches due to the mental and emotional strain it puts us through. This match, however, was one of those you wished never ended due to the sheer volleyball brilliance displayed by both teams.
China had no problems in its previous two matches until a gritty Korean team pulled out all the stops in trying to weather down China’s defensive wall. They fielded their top three outside hitters in Go, Ha, and Lee, who managed to devastate China’s vaunted blocking. All the tactics they did were enough in the early goings of the game, and managed to steal the first two sets through offensive bursts in the latter moments on the set.
However, China just kicked it to another gear in the following sets as they unleashed their best player, Liu Yanhan, an imposing 6’2 open hitter. To put into context for Yanhan’s sheer dominance, she’s like a female Marck Espejo with her explosive athleticism and power. Also add back row kills, crosscourt missiles, well-placed drop balls, steady blocking; you name it, she did it all in one game. Liu almost single-handedly powered her team to the finish line, and kept on punishing the Korean defense.
In the end, Korea ran out of gas in the fifth set, while China had all the momentum after winning two straight sets. In sum, China took full advantage of their superior height to topple the Koreans, as the former out-attacked the latter, 72-67, and out-blocked them 15-4. However, Korea’s Lee Soyoung still continued to captivate the hearts of the local crowd after putting up a gallant effort of 26 markers and 12 excellent receptions.
China will now face fellow undefeated team and arch-rivals, Thailand, today. It is guaranteed to be another classic. On the other hand, Korea will look to bounce back against India.
MATCH 5: THAILAND DOWNS INDIA 25-20, 25-21, 25-21
This match, though it lasted just three sets, felt like Thailand should have won it more convincingly. They had taller, more athletic, and more experienced players than India, but it seemed like they were in chill mode early in sets. Then, they would decide to just flip the kill switch when they needed just six or five more points to win a set.
Having watched how they took care of a tougher Korea team, it felt like Thailand could have done so much more against India. Their blocking was uncharacteristically average, and they’ve shown better rotations on the back line. Nonetheless, this match just showed how a dominant Thailand team has the luxury of having multiple gears to throw at opponents. Also, the Thais were still frisky enough on defense to force India into committing 24 errors, and their attackers were still the springy, jumping machines that cause a lot of frustration for opposing teams.
Expect a much better effort from them against their rivals, China, later today. Thailand has, on multiple international competitions, beat China rather convincingly. There’s some definite bad blood here, and it’ll be a treat to watch it bleed out into the volleyball court.
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