Tokyo, Japan, May 17, 2016 - The Netherlands has beaten Thailand 3-0 (25-14, 25-16, 25-20) in a match many believed would go a long way towards deciding who will go to the 2016 Olympics.
Thailand had this match marked down as one it had to win to guarantee a top four finish this week, while the Dutch needed to get back in the winners’ circle after being well beaten by Korea on Sunday.
It didn’t start well for Thailand, but after a slow start (1-5 down), they clawed their way back into the set.
For the middle stages of the set it was close, but when the Dutch put the foot on the accelerator, the Thais were unable to go with them. Serve receive was a problem for the team from Asia, but unforced errors were a bigger concern – seven to one in the 25-14 opening set.
If Dutch opposite Lonneke Sloetjes does not win highest point scorer in Japan this week, she will be very close to it. After a quiet opening set, the 191cm 25-year-old slipped her game up a gear in the second set, taking her individual tally to 14 points.
She was getting good support from her defense, who were thwarting many of Thailand’s attacking moves. Yvon Belien with three blocks was leading the way.
For Thailand Onuma Sittirak with eight points was capitalizing on the excellent setting of Nootsara Tomkom, but the set quickly slipped away from the Thais.
Coach Radchatagriengkai, realizing the Olympic dream was under threat, tried several different combinations in an attempt to counter the much taller Europeans, but nothing was seeming to work as the Netherlands took the second 25-16.
Serving the ball into the net can be a real momentum killer for a team, and such was the case for Thailand in the third set.
Captain Pleumjit Thinkaow was on a roll, her serve having lifted the Asian team from 9-13 down to 12-13, when she served into the net and momentum was lost.
Likewise, a ferocious ace served down the middle of the court can lift a team, and when Dutchwoman Celeste Plak let rip with one of the serves of the tournament so far, leaving the Thai defence flat footed, it was to be the beginning of the end.
Plak followed up with another thunderbolt, snuffing out the brave challenge Thailand had mounted to try and stay in the match 25-20.
Sloetjes finished with 20 points for The Netherlands, Sittirak 11 for Thailand. Yvon Belien with five blocks had proven almost impassable all match.
A strange hush fell over the stadium post-match, with the small but vocal Thai supporters realizing their dream of a first ever Olympics has become much tougher.
By contrast the Dutch hopes of a ticket to Rio is back on track following Sunday’s loss to Korea.
World Olympic Qualification Tournament websites:Women's WOQT in JapanMen's WOQT in JapanWomen's WOQT in Puerto RicoMen's WOQT in Mexico