By Preechachan Wiriyanupappong
With a near-flawless performance, Thailand women's volleyball team stunned European champions Serbia 25-19 25-17 25-20 to claim three points in the World Olympics Qualification Tournament at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium yesterday.
The win was another glorious chapter in the history of Thai volleyball as it was the first time the Thai spikers have beaten Serbia, currently world No 6 and bronze medallists at the FIVB World Grand Prix last year.
On Saturday, Thailand kicked off their campaign in the event, which doubles up as the Asian Olympic Qualification meet, with a disappointing 25-19 25-18 25-16 defeat to two-time world champions Russia.
Yesterday, powerful attacker Onuma Sittirak was the backbone of the team, leading the fight against much stronger rivals whose average height was 186cm against the Thais’ 174cm.
Onuma led four Thai players into double-digits with a match-high 19 points, including 17 devastating spikes and two terrific jump serves. Thai crowd favourites Pleumjit Thinkaow and Malika Kanthong each had three aces with their serves, while Wilavan Apinyapong contributed 10 points. Milena Rasik top scored for Serbia with nine points.
The Thai team displayed greater energy, with Onuma penetrating the Serbian defence with her powerful spikes. The offensive combination and solid blocking by Amporn Hyapha and Malika and great serves from Pleumjitr made life difficult for Serbia.
Serbia, powered by Jovana Brakocevic, appeared to come out flat and never got going, committing several unforced errors. After pulling off a 25-19 win in the opener, spirited Thailand stormed on to win the remaining two sets 25-17 25-20.
“After we lost our first match to world champions Russia, we studied hard for the match against Serbia, the other team from Europe who are much taller than us. I told everyone to forget about the first defeat and come back hard for the second match,” Thai head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai said.
“Everyone played way beyond my expectation. They could easily pick up their aggressive serves. Our attacking and receiving tactics were great and it played a key role in our success, which was a huge surprise,” he added.
Pleumjit Thinkaow said, “We served well. We read their serves and tried to counter-attack aggressively. Our ball reception and combinations were also great. We knew how to cope with their attacks and that’s what counted.”
Today is a rest day and Thailand next take on world No 3 and hosts Japan in their last match at 7.10pm local time (5.10pm Bangkok time) tomorrow.
Eight teams – hosts Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Serbia, Russia, Cuba and Peru – are pitted in the round-robin tournament. Only the top three teams plus the best Asian side will secure berths for the London Olympic Games.