Japan stun Thailand with epic comeback for Asian U23 title


Japan celebrate Women's U23 Asian Championship title in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, May 21, 2017 - Formidable Japan produced a fantastic comeback 3-2 (20-25, 16-25, 25-19, 27-25, 15-12) victory over determined Thailand in a hard-fought final showdown to underline their supremacy over the SMM 2nd Asian Women’s U23 Volleyball Championship at the packed The Mall Nakhon Ratchasima’s MCC Hall on Sunday.

Both Thailand and Japan had already clinched two slots at the 2017 FIVB Women’s U23 World Championship in Slovenia from September 10 to 17, following their wins on Saturday in the semifinals against Vietnam and Chinese Taipei respectively.

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In what was the semifinal rematch of the previous edition in the Philippines two years ago, Thailand, who finished runners-up to eventual winners China in the 2015 edition, came up much stronger in Sunday's final clash against Japan, with over 3,500 home fans boosting their team's morale.

World No.8 Thailand took the first two sets 25-20 and 25-16, thanks to their impenetrable defence and Ajcharaporn Kongyot's deadly spikes. However, Japan, fourth place at both the Asian meet in 2015 and the World Championship in Turkey the same year, roared back to win the following two sets 25-19 27-25.

In the thrilling decider Japan fared better to capture the set 15-12 and the championship. For Japan, it was a sweet revenge against Thailand as the Thais beat them 3-2 in the semifinals of the previous episode.

"It was a very difficult match as we expected," Japan head coach Kiyoshi Abo commented after the game. "Thailand played extremely well in the first two sets while we made too many errors, especially on our service. Thailand are very strong on their sideout attacks and they adapted well to our game plan. Then we tried to change our system in the next two sets by fielding players from the bench and they played very well. We trained together for two weeks before this championship. I am very happy that we finally won this tournament. For our preparation to the World Championship, in this match our players made a lot of mistakes, so we have to adjust and change some things before participating in the world meet."

Debutantes Vietnam pulled off a stunning straight-set 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-19) victory over Chinese Taipei in the bronze medal match to claim a historic third place.

Vietnam have never claimed a top-three finish at any Asian competitions. The Vietnam national senior women's team finished fifth at the 2015 Asian Senior Women's Championship in Tianjin, China, while their women's U19 team came within a whisker of taking bronze at the 2016 Asian Women's U19 Championship, only going down to hosts Thailand 1-3 in the third-place playoff.

With the convincing victory, the Vietnamese players danced around, hugged each other and were in happy tears. Vietnam did not take part in the previous edition two years ago in the Philippines, where China were crowned champions after beating Thailand 3-1 in the final showdown.

Dream Team of the 2017 Women's U23 Asian Championship.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan proved too strong for Hong Kong to thrash their smaller-built opponents with a comprehensive straight-set 3-0 (25-17, 25-13, 25-15) win to finish fifth place, leaving Hong Kong to return with the 6th position.

The 7th-8th playoff encounter saw powerful Low Mei Cing, who scored a team-high 30 points including 27 kills in this match, steer Malaysia to a hard-fought 3-2 (25-23, 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-13) victory over Iran.

The Mall Nakhon Ratchasima's MCC Hall, packed to the rafters for the final of the Women's U23 Asian Championship.

7th-8th playoff: Malaysia - Iran 3-2 (25-23 22-25 25-23 22-25 15-13)
5th-6th playoff: Kazakhstan - Hong Kong 3-0 (25-17 25-13 25-15)
Bronze: Vietnam - Chinese Taipei 3-0 (25-20 25-19 25-19)
Final: Japan - Thailand 3-2 (20-25 16-25 25-19 27-25 15-12)

1. Japan - qualified for 2017 World Championship
2. Thailand - qualified for 2017 World Championship
3. Vietnam
4. Chinese Taipei
5. Kazakhstan
6. Hong Kong
7. Malaysia
8. Iran
9. Uzbekistan
10. Australia
11. New Zealand
12. Sri Lanka
13. Macao

Outside Hitters: Chatchu-on Moksri (Thailand) & Tran Thi Thanh Thuy (Vietnam).
Setter: Miki Sakurai (Japan).
Opposite: Pimpichaya Kokram (Thailand).
Middle Blockers: Ayaka Sugi (Japan) & Hathairat Jarat (Thailand).
Libero: Lai Xiang-Chen (Chinese Taipei).
MVP: Misaki Yamauchi (Japan).


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