By Preechachan Wiriyanuparppong
Fans watched their team beat defending and 11-time champions Brazil for the first time-ever. Thailand, current world No.14, kicked off their 2017 edition with a narrow 2-3 defeat at the hands of old foes Japan in their opening Pool C encounter at the Omnisport Hall in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands on July 7.
The Thai spikes suffered the second loss in Apeldoorn after going down 0-3 to hosts the Netherlands. Things turned sour again for Thailand when they lost 1-3 to Dominican Republic, the team they have always beaten in recent years.
The Thai squad left Apeldoorn with their heads low in despair after collecting only one point from three straight losses, heading to Sendai for the second-week campaign of the top-tier competition in Pool D. Nonetheless, Thailand suffered another heartbreak with their baggages abandoned at the Schiphol Airport in Poland while they were making a connecting flight to Sendai.
Upon their arrival in the Japanese city, the Thai players rushed to the department store to buy important sports items for training including sports shoes, shorts, jerseys and personal care products including toothpaste, toothbrush, roll-ons, bath gels and hair shampoo. However, just one day ahead of the start of the competition in Sendai, Jaksuwan Tocharoen, secretary-general of the Thailand Volleyball Association, flew from Thailand to bring competition uniforms for them in Sendai.
On Friday, the first day of the World Grand Prix second week Pool D in Sendai, Thailand suffered the loss to Japan two in a row after going down 1-3 to the hosts. The Thais’ next match following day was very tough as they had to go up against fired-up Brazil, regarded as one of the world’s strongest teams.
They are the defending World Grand Prix champions and have won the prestigious tournament for 11 times. Winning the Montreux Volley Masters in Switzerland last month, Brazil also captured the Olympic gold in the 2008 Beijing Games and repeated the feat in the 2012 London Games.
Thailand head coach Danai Sriwacharamaytakul admitted earlier that it was very difficult to beat Brazil. To win a set from the formidable giants was also a rare goal. However, Thailand just turned things around and played the match as if they were training without any pressure. Winning the first two sets 25-22 25-21 was a new chapter of history for Thailand as they have never done that before.
The last time they won a set from Brazil was their match in Montreux last month. With veteran Pleumjit Thinkaow spearheading, the well-organised Thailand team, which also included hard-hitting Ajcharaporn Kongyot, young talent Chutchu-on Moksri, fast attacker Hattaya Bamrungsuk and powerful Pimpichaya Kokrum, went on their exceptional performance to win the hard-fought third set 29-27, with the last point winning by the Thailand’s block touch challenge.
Ajcharaporn Kongyot scored a match-high 18 points for Thailand including 17 kills from 31 attempts. Pleumjit Thinkaow contributed 10 points through her attack hits, 2 stuff blocks and one ace serve. Chutchu-on Moksri scored 9 attacks and 2 aces. Tandara Caixeta led Brazil with 16 points. After the end of the first two days, Thailand go atop Pool D with 3 points from one win against one loss. Brazil, Serbia and Japan also collected the similar 3 points from one win against one loss to finish second, third and fourth places respectively.
Ajcharaporn Kongyot said after the match: “I’m really happy to win today. It was such a tough match and we tried to avoid making simple mistakes. Our veteran players led us younger players really well, and I think that was great.”
Coach Danai Sriwacharamaytakul added: “The best thing about today was that we played as we planned maximizing the particular skills of each player. Brazil has such a high block and they’re strong, and they can play quickly. So it was tough to get every point against them. They made some service errors today, and that gave us a chance to play our games, to play our combinations. And I think we played as a team, together, and the result was a good game.”
After the end of the first two days, Thailand go atop Pool D with 3 points from one win against one loss. Brazil, Serbia and Japan also collected the similar 3 points from one win against one loss to finish second, third and fourth places respectively.
Thailand will play their last Pool D match against Serbia, silver medallists at the Rio Games, on Sunday, while Japan will take on Brazil. After that, the Thai spikers will fly home for the last stop of the World Grand Prix Preliminary round in Pool H, which they are due to take on Italy, Turkey and Dominican Republic at the Hua Mark Indoor Stadium, Bangkok from July 21 to 23.
A total of 12 teams are competing in the FIVB World Grand Prix Group 1 Preliminary Round. They are Brazil, Thailand, Serbia, Japan, China, Turkey, USA, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and Dominican Republic. After the completion of the three-week preliminaries, only top five teams plus hosts China will advance to the World Grand Prix Finals in Nanjing, China from August 2 to 6.