If you found the roller coaster of emotions during the first two days of the AVC U23 Tournament crazy, hang on, because the next few days are going to be crazier.
After defeating Kazakhstan in five thrilling sets, Iran hung on to the top spot in Pool A to relegate the Philippines to stay put at the second spot. Honestly, the seeding in this situation doesn’t help much, as the Philippine team would be facing tougher challenges in their next two matches.
Now with the Top Eight of the tournament already determined, the tournament will go into another classification phase in the next two days. The Top Eight will be split into two groups – Group E and Group F. Teams will carry over their records from the previous classification round and will face the two teams in their group they have yet to meet. Once their records have been tallied, elimination matches will take place on Thursday with the top seed from one group taking on the bottom team of the other while the second seed from one group facing off with third seed of the other. Group F consists of China, India, Thailand, and Korea.
The Philippines is situated in Group E with Iran. They will need to win at least one of their upcoming matches to avoid landing at the bottom of their group and getting an early match against the world’s number one team in China this coming Thursday. Tomorrow the country will square off against world powerhouse Japan, 4:15 pm. After the encounter with Japan, up next for the Philippines will be Chinese Taipei this coming Tuesday, 4:15 pm.
Japan and Taipei already faced-off in a brutal four-set match yesterday that showed each team’s all-around brilliance. Both teams had little to no weaknesses, but they were able to pound at each other’s minuscule holes to give themselves short-lived advantages. Though Japan ran away with match in the fourth set, they were visibly frustrated with Taipei’s relentless defense in the fourth set since the Taiwanese lacked energy to fight back after two consecutive heart-breaking losses. The match had an extra edge to it as Taipei’s Senior Team has upset Japan in international tournaments for the past few years, and you could tell Taipei did their homework and snuffed out all of Japan’s tendencies. In the end, Japan was just all too powerful.
Against Japan, the Philippine team will face a team hardened by decades of world-class training and competition. Japan Head Coach, Kiyoshi Abo is a calculating technician and is being groomed to take the reins of Japan’s celebrated senior team after the 2016 Olympics. His team is filled with all-around volleyball talents, with barely any weaknesses with its hard-hitting team captain Nao Muranaga being the country’s biggest challenge. Muranaga is an open spiker and is also one of the tallest girls on their team. Her height doesn’t hamper her quickness for she is an impeccable back row player. Taipei fashioned their defensive pattern in stopping her and Japan’s powerful open spikers, but the Japanese spikers eventually weathered Taipei’s floor defense. Muranaga and fellow outside hitter, Kaori Mabashi finished with 18 points.
Japan will make the Philippines work for every point as Japan’s athleticism will surely bother the Philippines’ hitters. They’ve taken notice of the Philippines’ main guns and will make their said opponents find other options for points. The Philippines can’t relax against Japan, but regardless of the turnout, the match will be an invaluable learning experience for the young national squad.
Taipei, as mentioned earlier, is a defensive dynamo. They have four players who are part of their senior team, that has taken down some of the world’s top ranked squads. All of their players work hard to keep the ball alive, and their defensive pattern combined with their quickness, is unforgiving. Japan’s normally upbeat demeanour turned grim against this team and the Philippines might have to create new strategies to generate points. But rest assured, that against Taipei (maybe even against Japan), we’ll have the best scorer on the floor in Alyssa Valdez. However, given the attention she has generated, bet on Taipei to find ways to minimize her impact. The Philippines has to stay focused, and avoid going down when Taipei digs or blocks their attacks. If they stay aggressive, they can take this match.