Many expected the match between China and Thailand earlier today to last longer than it did, but Thailand seemed worn out as their regularly razor sharp defense and dynamic offense fell flat to the surprise of the PhilSports Arena crowd.
Given that Thailand played last night and at an earlier time today, one could chalk the loss up simply due to fatigue. However, to the speculation of the media present in the postgame press conference, Thailand could have possibly thrown the match to avoid facing the Philippines in the quarterfinals of the AVC U23 tournament on Thursday.
When pressed about the reason for their surprisingly subpar performance, the Thai staff present were very evasive about answering any questions. “We don’t want to face the Philippines because your number 2 [Alyssa Valdez] is very good, and [you] have a very big home crowd,” said Thai Head Coach Nataphon Srisamutnak through an English translator.
Although history dictates that the Thais are incredibly competitive in defending their title in the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, a tournament that the Philippines also competes in.
Had they won their match against China, Thailand would be ranked first in Group F which would set up a match against the Philippines who will most probably finish last in Group E if they lose to Chinese Taipei later. That match could serve as a very valuable learning experience for the Pinoys as they’ll get the chance to scout a powerful volleyball team. Also, the Philippines already plays a similar style of volleyball to the Thais as former Thailand Youth Volleyball Coach, Anusorn “Tai” Bundit is currently manning the sidelines for Ateneo and doubles as a consultant for the PH U23 National Team.
“The Philippines is very good,” said Coach Nataphon with a smile when asked about the SEA Games.
The Thais have won gold in every edition of the SEA Games since 1995, which coincidentally spelled the rise of their volleyball program. Six of their players in their U23 lineup are also set to play in the upcoming SEA Games. Losing games on purpose is not an uncommon practice in the global volleyball scene; a prime example is when China purposely lost to a much weaker Serbian team in the an FIVB tournmanet to prevent Thailand from qualifying in the 2012 Olympics.