By Preechachan Wiriyanupappong
Hosts Thailand stunned world champions and world No 1 China in a five-set thriller to top Pool E in the round-of-eight at the 10th Asian Girls' U17 Volleyball Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima on Wednesday.
World No 17 Thailand, never before finalists at the top-flight tournament, put in a flawless performance for a 30-28 21-25 23-25 25-14 15-9 victory over last year’s champions here China.
The in-form Thais fielded a strong line-up led by Chatchu-on Moksri, who burst to prominence in the recent AVC Cup in Shenzhen, China and the FIVB Women’s Volleyball Championship in Italy. The towering Chinese – average height 182cm against the Thais’ 175cm – fielded an experienced line-up led by powerful left-hander Li Yingying, 192cm tall.
Backed by a noisy crowd of some 3,000 fans, the hosts rallied from 1-2 down to grind out the win in a heart-pounding tie-breaker. Chatchu-on scored a match-high 23 points for Thailand including 20 kills from 46 attempts and two blocks. “It was a tough match and I’m happy that my girls showed no fear of much taller world champions China. We trained hard, hoping to come up with our best form in this championship on home soil. My girls didn’t let me down,” Thailand’s head coach Tanasak Rattanarasri said after the match.
“We just wanted to prove we can beat China,” said Thailand’s captain Natthanicha Jaisaen. “After watching the Chinese play, we realised they are not unbeatable. In our next match against Kazakhstan, I’m confident that we can beat them but we will never underestimate any team in this tournament. … I want to see my team win the title here.” In other matches the Philippines brushed aside New Zealand 3-1 (25-11 21-25 25-5 25-14), defending and successive four-time champions Japan outclassed South Korea 3-0 (25-21 25-20 25-21) and Taiwan crushed Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-9 25-18 24-26 25-23).
The knock-out quarter-finals will be held today, with Thailand taking on Kazakhstan, Taiwan challenging China, Japan playing New Zealand and South Korea meeting the Philippines.