Korean captain Kim Yeon-Koung was at her inspirational best against Netherlands
Tokyo, Japan, May 15, 2016 - Korea has bounced back from the disappointment of an opening day loss to Italy by posting a shock 3-0 (29-27, 25-23, 25-21) win against The Netherlands at the Olympic qualifiers in Tokyo.
It wasn’t that the Koreans won that shocked, it was the 3-0 scoreline against a team who is considered one of the favourites to earn a ticket to Rio this week.
By every measure the opening set was a barn burner. Brilliant serving, blocking, digging, setting and pulsating rallies that kept the large crowd on the edge of their seats.
Of course the beating heart of the Korean playbook revolves around 28-year-old Korean captain, Kim Yeon-Koung, and in the opening set she was asked to do a power of work.
It was her serve mainly that was causing problems for the Dutch, with four aces making life difficult for the Europeans, but The Netherlands were doing a good job of blocking and digging her ferocious spikes.
Korea took the opening set 29-27, after being down 2-5 early. But the Yeon-Koung serve helped the Asian team win the next six points to set up a pulsating, see-sawing opener.
For the Dutch it was once again Lonneke Sloetjes who was doing much of the heavy lifting early, with five first set points to follow on from her 30 against Kazakhstan on the opening night.
A conundrum for any coach that will keep them awake at night is how to manage the workload of your star player. Such is the challenge facing Korean coach Jungchul Lee and his captain, Yeon-Koung.
The second set showed Lee’s strategy – keep your star player on the court, but let others do the bulk of the work.
It worked a treat for Korea, with Kim Hee-Jin and Park Jeong-Ah taking control and giving their captain a breather.
Of course you can’t keep a player of Yeon-Koung’s standing out of a match for too long, and when she was called on to help close out the second set, she did not disappoint.
On their way to losing the second set 23-25, the Dutch also lost star player Robin De Kruijf to an ankle injury. De Kruijf had eight points at the time, just two less than Sloetjes, who was struggling to regain her form of the previous day.
The third set was another rip-roarer, and with Sloetjes returning to her brilliant best it became a shoot-out between two of the best players in the world today.
Sloetjes was incredible, but so was Korea and Yeon-Koung. Several times they surrendered the lead in the set, but each time they clawed it back, and when they sealed the final set 25-21 and the match 29-27, 25-23, 25-21 there were scenes of unbridled jubilation.
A telling statistic from the match was the serve points; Korea served 11 aces, The Netherlands not a single one.