Thailand back from the grave in 3-2 thriller to keep Rio hopes alive


Former Thai captain Apinyapong Wilavan was instrumental in her team's comeback win against Korea

Tokyo, Japan, May 21, 2016 - Thailand has staged a dramatic comeback to keep its hopes of a first ever Olympics alive, while Korea is confirmed as the first team in Japan to qualify for Rio after a dramatic 3-2 (19-25, 22-25, 29-27, 26-24, 15-12) win for Thailand.

The win gives Thailand two points and moves it to nine, two points behind Japan, while Korea is now safe on 13 points.

Not for the first time this week Thai fans were kept on the edge of their seats for more than two hours, while their team slipped and slided but, ultimately, held its nerve to post a memorable win.

Thailand needed to find something special, but Korea also had a lot on its mind. Knowing a win would lock up an Olympic ticket it was determined to hit their Asian opponents hard.

After opening up an early two point break the Koreans were never headed. Thailand was able to stay in touch until the score reached 13-11, at which stage Korea put together six consecutive points with Kim Yeon-Koung at the service line.

Thailand, once again preferring Guedpard Pornpun as its starting setter, rallied briefly to bring the score back to 17-20, but Korea had all the answers late to lock up the set 25-19.

Kim Hee-Jin was continuing her good form from the previous day with seven first set points, the same as Yeon-Koung, while Nuekjang Thatdao and Kongyot Ajcharaporn led the way for Thailand with four points each.

Yeon-Koung is a problem for any team that comes up against Korea. If you’re lucky, she might be at her best for just half the game.

The problem is, when she’s at her best it’s impossible to try and shut her down. And even though Thailand dominated most of the second set, it was Yeun-Koung who kept her team in the hunt, and ultimately helped steer her side to an unlikely 25-22 result.

Thailand had led since the start of the set, powerful and well directed spiking fro Kongyot Ajcharaporn helping her team to a 3-0, then 10-7, and then 15-12 lead.

Korea fought back to take the lead 16-15, but Thailand settled again to get into a set-winning position at 21-18.

But in what must have brought back memories of the game against Japan, Korea won the next four points to move ahead 22-21, and then sealing the deal to lock up a place at their 11th Olympic Games.

Thailand desperately needed a confidence boost, and it came in the third set. With setter Pornpun showing cunning and guile on the net, and Kanthong Malika refusing to be intimidated by the Korean wall, Thailand managed to keep their Olympic dream alive.

It almost wasn’t; Thailand again led nearly all of the set, but let Korea back in late. On two occasions it held set points, but gave it up both times.

Korea also held set points twice; they also blew it. Finally, at 28-27, a partial block at the net enabled Thailand to finally close out the set 29-27.

Yeon-Koung had 26 points for Korea, while Sittirak Onuma had 15 for Thailand.

Thailand supporters need a strong constitution. Their team have been giving them a dramatic, nerve-wracking ride this campaign.

The fourth set was another classic example. Thailand led nearly all of the set, let Korea come back from 24-22 to 24-24, then let another set point slip at 25-24 before finally winning 26-24, locking up a certain point that would keep them alive at least until Japan’s game against Italy on Saturday night.

Current captain Thinkaow Pluemjit and former captain Apinyapong Wilivan were the steady hands that helped guide Thailand to the set victory, aided and abetted by some timely setting from Pornpun and formidable blocking from Nuekjang Thatdao.

Sittarak Onuma was leading the charge for Thailand with 21 points, while Yeon-Koung was leading all comers with 31 points for Korea.

The final set was incredibly tense, and error-riddled. Thailand held control early, but mistake after mistake kept letting the Koreans back into the set.

At 10-12, it looked as though Thailand may have blown its chances, but it won the next five points over a weary Korea to take the set 15-12, and the match 3-1.

For Korea it was hard to be disappointed, as the single point it received for winning two sets guarantees it will be going to Rio.

And for Thailand the dream is still alive, although it would need Japan to lose its last two matches, against Italy and Netherlands, and then win their final match against Peru to get to their first Olympics.


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