NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand, September 13, 2007 -
It was the Japan’s third victory in the Asian meet. They landed their first title in the inaugural Asian Championship, which was held in Australia in 1975. In 1979, China stunned the reigning champs to win their first crown in the Asian meet. However, in 1983, the Japanese took the home crowd advantage to regain the lost pride by winning the crown.
Thailand, which already finished third in 2001 and 2003, but a disappointing sixth in Taicang, improved their fortune to come in third place overall.
Having been coaching the Japan national team for five years, Shoichi Yanagimoto finally kept his promise to steer his team to the top level of the podium. Dropping only a single set to Thailand en route to a 3-1 win over the host team in the round-robin top eight teams, a fired-up Japan on Thursday lost the hard-fought opener 22-25 to Kazakhstan, strengthened by powerful Yelena Pavlova.
Japan, which finished third to China and Kazakhstan in the previous edition in Taicang, stormed back mightily to take the following three sets 25-16 25-18 25-16 and the dramatic 3-1 triumph, thanks hugely to the splendid offensive combination of Miyuki Takahashi’s deadly cross-court spikes and solid blocks from Erika Araki and Saori Kimura.
"It’s a great success. I’m very happy that Japan can eventually end the gold-medal drought in the tournament. It was not only a sweet victory for us, but also our good preparation for the World Cup and the World Olympic Qualification Tournament," Japanese head coach Yanagimoto commented.
"As far as I’m concerned, Asian teams have been tremendously improving their forms. I’m also pleased with the upgraded form of my team in the tournament.
With a clean sweep of seven victories in the final 1st-8th round to collect 14 points, Japan underlined their supremacy over the 14th Asian Championship. Kazakhstan had to be content with the fifth place in the biennial tournament after having 10 points from three wins against four losses.
South Korea had 11 points from four wins against three losses to finish fourth overall in the championship. The Korean squad fielded not-so-tall players, but possessed more individual talents in their last match against Australia on Thursday.
After winning the comfortable 25-17 win in the opener, the Koreans made the most of spectacular spikes from powerful Bae Yoo-Na and Han Yoo-Mi to beat the Aussies 25-13 25-7 and the effortless one-sided battle.
Australia did not beat any team in the ranking 1st-8th round, collecting seven points from seven straight losses to finish eighth in the tournament.
The centre of attention was tremendously paid in the eye-catching clash between the Olympic champions China and hosts Thailand. China, propelled by the formidable line-up which included Yang Hao, Zhou Suhong and Xue Ming, utilized their height advantage to overwhelm the home girls 25-18 in the opening set.
Backed by a noisy drum-beating, flag-waving section of more than 3,500 crowd jampacking the MCC Hall inside The Mall Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand were close on the heels of the crack Chinese in the second set.
As China, whose height average is 185cm against the rivals’ 176cm, fielded the awesome foursome – Yang, Zhou, Liu Yanan and Zhang Yuhong, all of them played in the team which won the Olympic title in Athens in 2004, Thailand matched them competitively which saw the lead change hands for several times. Exploiting the greater experience, China proved their class to win the hard-fought second set 28-26.
The third set remained closely contested. A determined Thailand poured everything in the fierce battle, with Onuma Sitthirak and Pluemjit Thinkaow smashing thundering spikes from all angles. However, the Chinese were just devastating. Technically and tactically, they controlled the whole game to claim the set 25-19 and the match.
China had 13 points from six wins against one loss to Japan to finish second in the tournament, with Thailand in third place with 12 points following five wins against two losses.
"I’m not happy with the win over Thailand. Actually, I had set an initial target that my team would take home the successive 11-time Asian crown. Unfortunately, my girls did not live up to my expectation as they suffered the bitter loss to Japan in straight sets. That’s a disappointing form my team had shown so far. We next have only one ultimate dream in mind – to defend our Olympic title on home soil," an upset Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe said.
The last match of the round-robin tournament saw Chinese Taipei in unbeatable form as they thrashed Vietnam without much trouble 25-16 25-20 25-21. Chinese Taipei collected nine points from two wins against five losses to finish sixth overall, while Vietnam had eight points from one win against six losses to be placed seventh.
RANKING FOR QUALIFICATION OF 2007 WORLD CUP, 2008 WORLD OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION, 2008 WORLD GRAND PRIX (Ranking 1-6 except matches against China and Japan)