Formidable Japan dashed Thailand's dreams of winning at least one match in pool F of the FIVB World Grand Prix, beating the Asian champions in four games at the Hong Kong Coliseum yesterday.
The disappointing 25-18, 25-15, 19-25, 25-20 defeat to world No. 3 Japan gave Thailand the dubious honour of losing all three matches in the group. Earlier in tournament, the Thai team went down to China and world No 4 Italy.
Thailand started poorly against the London Olympic bronze medallists, trailing 2-6 in the first game. Spectacular attacks by Ajcharaporn Kongyot and powerful Onuma Sittirak helped Thailand tie at 8. Things began to change for Thailand, who suddenly started playing nervously and making unforced errors in offence. Japan, strengthened by three key players Saori Kimura, left-handed Miyu Nagaoka and Yuki Ishii, took a huge lead at 23-15 and went on to take the opener at 25-18.
Nagaoka and Ishii smashed past the fragile Thai defence to help Japan take a commanding 24-15 lead in the second game. Onuma could do nothing against the triple block put up by the rivals.
The third game was a thriller as Thailand, with their backs to the wall, got their act together. Small-built Tapaphaiphan Chaisri tore the Japanese defence apart with her cross-court spikes. The aggression helped Thailand claim the game at 25-19.
The fourth game was hotly-contested with both sides trading deadly spikes and solid blocks from the beginning to be tied at 17-all. The determined Japanese fared better with their teamwork at the crunch to capture the game 25-20 and the match.
"My players tried to learn from past mistakes by improving their technique and reception of serves. Counter attacks remain something of a problem with this team. Japan were quick in attacks and foiled our blocking attempts," Thai head coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai said.
"We have a lot of things to improve before the Pool G matches begin in Bangkok next week. Two players, including libero Wanna Buakaew, will be recalled. We hope to put in a better performance. It's a pity we could not accomplish our target of winning at least one match. In South Korea last week, we played against some tough teams and were able to beat Serbia. I can't blame my players. They have tried their best."
Japan's coach Masayoshi Manabi praised the Thai players. "The Thais served very well in the third game. The coordination between the setter and spikers was also very impressive," he said.
Meanwhile, the second match saw last year's runners-up China stun two time World Cup winners Italy 25-20 25-18 22-25 25-16.
China won all the three matches to garner nine points. Italy were in second place with six points from two wins against one loss. Japan collected three points from one win against two losses to finish third. Winless Thailand were in fourth place.
Thailand will be back in Bangkok today and begin preparations for matches in Pool G, where they will be pitted against two-times Olympic champions and WGP title-holders Brazil, world No 2 USA and Dominican Republic at Hua Mark Indoor Stadium from August 15 to 17.