By The Nation
Thailand looked strong with their young, potential line-up led by powerful Ajcharaporn Kongyot, Pimpichaya Kokram and Chatchu-on Moksri. Veteran Pleumjit Thinkaow also strengthened the Thai offence with her lightning-fast attacks, while Japan remained in aggressive form with Sarina Koga, Risa Shinnabe and veteran Erika Araki at the helm.
Both teams started encouragingly, trading points through their powerful attacks and well-placed serves. Levelling at 10-10, Thailand pulled their game to gradually pull away. Taking a commanding 24-20 lead, Thailand needed only more more point to wrap up the first set. However, the Japanese were just never-say-die, saving two crucial points before Thailand clinched the thrilling set 25-22.
The second set heated up when both sides gave it all-out, but Japan proved a bit more aggressive with hard-hitter Yorie Nameya adding firepower to the team. With Koga and Shinnabe uncorking a series of attacks, Japan took the second set 25-20.
In the third set, Japan came up with all elements which made them one of the world’s greatest defensive teams to exploit impeccable defence, scintillating blocks, fine retrieves and good serves. Thailand staged a comeback, but their efforts were to no avail. Japan claimed the set 25-22 for a 2-1 margin.
Japan still gained the upper hand initially in the fourth set which saw them take an early 10-6 lead, stretch it to 16-11 and 19-16. Thailand sent in Wipawee Seethong to improve the team’s fortunes. Wipawee gave Thailand a strong comeback as she attacked devastatingly for the 23-23 tie. Still, Japan proved steadier at the final assault to win the set 26-24 and match.
“I think everyone in my team played well, but we still need improvement on teamwork and erratic tactics. However, despite the loss,, we still have chances of making amends in the next round, where we will take on the winners between Vietnam and the Philippines. The likely win in that round will give us an opportunity to play in the semi-finals, our initial target. I hope that my team will perform well in that round. If given a chance, I’m sure my team are ready to reclaim the Asian title,” veteran Wilavan Apinyapong commented after the match.
Thailand won the Asian crown twice in 2009 in Hanoi, Vietnam and in 2013 in Nakhon Ratchasima.