Thailand, Japan claim last two tickets to U23 Worlds


Japan's Hikari Kato jumps high to overcome the Chinese Taipei block in the Women's U23 Asian Championship semifinals.

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, May 20, 2017 - Two unbeaten teams Japan and Thailand set up a final showdown at the SMM 2nd Asian Women’s U23 Volleyball Championship at The Mall Nakhon Ratchasima’s MCC Hall and secured the two World Championship berths on offer in this top-flight tournament.

In-form Thailand, strengthened by three national senior players including hard-hitting Ajcharaporn Kongyot and Pimpichaya Kokram, delighted over 3,500 home fans packing the competition venue on Saturday after brushing off Vietnam in comfortable straight sets 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-20) in the first semifinal clash.

The scintillating victory not only secured the Thai squad a final berth at this championship for second time in a row, but also a spot at the FIVB Women's U23 World Championship to be held this year in Slovenia from September 10 to 17. Thailand, runners-up to China at the previous continental edition in the Philippines two years ago, have yet to lose a match to their respective rivals en route to Sunday's final, where they will go up against Japan, another team with undefeated record.

Chatchu-on Moksri topscored for Thailand with 15 points including 11 kills from 23 attempts. Pimpichaya Kokram added 12 points to the Thai tally, all from her devastating attacks. Tran Thi Thanh Thuy led Vietnam with 12 points from ace spikes.

After the match, Thailand head coach Nataphon Srisamutnak said, "I'm very delighted that my team can play in the final again. We had a good game plan, especially on attacks, while the Vietnamese did not perform well defensively. Our service also lived up to my expectation. Ajcharaporn (Kongyot) did a good job in this crucial match. I think everyone tried to refrain from making hasty unforced mistakes. We have already accomplished our goal of making it to the final showdown. We have to prove our ability again in the final clash."

In the other semifinal encounter, formidable Japan struggled to beat spirited Chinese Taipei in four dramatic sets 3-1 (25-18, 27-29, 25-22, 25-10).

Misaki Yamauchi scored a team-high 21 points including 18 kills from 38 attempts. Hikari Kato and Sakamoto added 18 and 16 points respectively, with Ayaka Sugi having 5 kill blocks. Chen Tzu-Ya led Chinese Taipei with 15 points including 12 kills from 44 attempts.

"It was a tough match indeed. My team members are mentally tired. We lost the second set because my players made too many mistakes, especially on serves and attacks. We next play Thailand in the final showdown. They are one of the strong teams to be reckoned with, but more importantly they are playing on their home soil and a big crowd of their fans are supporting them all the way. We have to be patient in that situation. Our chance of beating Thailand is just 50-50, but we will do our best," Japan’s head coach Kiyoshi Abo commented.

In the 5th-8th playoff matches, Kazakhstan struggled to beat Malaysia 3-0 (25-23, 25-15, 25-22) to contest a rematch against Hong Kong, the team they had already beaten in straight sets in a playoff match at the round of the last eight teams, in Sunday's 5th-6th playoff.

Hong Kong on Saturday capitalised on Iran's errors to thrash their rivals with a convincing straight-set 3-0 (25-14, 25-22, 25-18) victory. Iran and Malaysia will fight it out for 7th position.

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Earlier, Uzbekistan finished in 9th place at this championship as they overcame a tough challenge from Australia to defeat their fighting rivals in a hard-fought four-set thriller 3-1 (25-23, 25-21, 23-25, 26-24). Australia return home with the 10th position.

On Sunday, the final day of the championship, Iran will take on Malaysia in the 7th-8th playoff, with Kazakhstan pitted against old foes Hong Kong for 5th position.

Vietnam will challenge Chinese Taipei in the bronze medal match, while hosts Thailand and Japan set up a final showdown, followed by the awards presentation and the closing ceremony.


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