Going down to Russia 11 matches in succession in the World Grand Prix, Thailand set an high hope on beating Russia for the first time on home soil before a large number of cheering home crowds packing the venue. However, Russia still proved a cut above the small-built rivals. Natalia Goncharova scored a team-high 27 points including 23 attack hits from 51 attempts for Russia. Ajcharaporn Kongyot top scored with 17 points for Thailand.
The opening set was tightly-contested. The host side lived up to fans’ exceptions as they came up with great attacks. Veteran Pleumjit Thinkaow produced lightning-fast spikes and Ajcharaporn Kongyot overpowered the taller blockers with her powerful mid-court attacks. However, Nataliya Goncharova tore the Thai defence apart with her sharp spikes, while the Russia’s solid blocks proved too much for the smaller-built Thais. Russia took the close set 27-25.
Thailand returned to the court with more focus in the second set, with Pleumjit playing more effectively in attacks. After leading 3-0, the hosts stretched it to 18-16. From then, the battle became tight until the end, which the Russian blocks prevailed and their defence system allowed Goncharova to spike on a counter-attack to finish 26-24.
The third set was a repeat of the first with the Russians taking an initial lead. Ajcharaporn and Pleumjit were the Thailand’s beacon of hopes as both attempted to overcome the much taller blockers with their attacks. Still, Russia held their nerves and went on sizzling form to win the set 25-19 and match.
After the match, Thailand’s setter Nootsara Tomkom said, “I would like to praise Russia for putting their best effort. Both teams played really well and showed their good fighting spirits. As we played in front of our home fans, we would like to play our best. Spectators expected to see such an amazing game like this. The next match against China, we will go back to adjust our playing styles and make our game plan. We will try to do our best.”
Thailand’s head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai commented in the press conference, “I would like to congratulate Russia for their victory. Both teams played really well. Thanks to the Thai fans who came to cheer for us. Russia have planned their tactics very well. I also would like to give credit to No.8 of the Russian team, Nataliya Goncharova who is a scoring machine of the team. We tried to play our best according to our game plan but it was not successful. It was a pity in the first and second sets, we had a chance to beat them but we couldn’t make it. I think today is a good match for young generations to learn the tactics because both teams are very capable. Especially, Thailand young players have to learn a lot from today’s match to prepare to be the key players in the future. For the next match against China, we still have two more days to prepare and recover. I think it’s going to be tough but we will do our best.”
Meanwhile, defending champions and world No.1 USA survived a sturdy challenge from China to beat the world No.2 in straight sets 25-21 26-24 25-22 to advance into the Final Four.
At the end of the pool preliminaries on Friday, USA made a clean sweep of two victories against no loss to top Pool K with six points. The Netherlands had one win against one loss to finish second with two points and China came in third place with one point from two straight losses. In Pool J, Brazil captured the top spot to have six points from two straight wins, followed by Russia with three points from one win against one loss and winless Thailand came in third place with no point.
In the Saturday’s semi-finals, USA take on Russia and Brazil challenge the Netherlands.
Russia came in second place in Pool J to set up a tough clash against Pool K winners USA, with Pool J winners Brazil taking on Pool K runners-up the Netherlands.