Japan defeated Thailand 3-0 (25-20, 29-27, 25-22) in a thrilling evening match on the third day of the FIVB Women’s Grand Champions Cup at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Friday.
The hosts raised their record to 2-1 with six points while the Thais dropped to 0-3 and have yet to win a set in the tournament.
Japan captain Saori Kimura was the top scorer in the match with 18 points, while Saori Sakoda added 15. Yuki Ishii and Risa Shinnabe contributed 11 points apiece in the victory.
Thailand was led by Wilavan Apinyapong and Onuma Sittirak who both scored 14 points.
Japan outblocked Thailand 4-2 and had a 3-2 advantage in service points. Thailand committed 17 errors to Japan’s 16.
It was the 10th lifetime victory for Japan over Thailand in FIVB contests between the two Asian sides.
“Since we lost to Thailand the last time we played them, I’m glad we won tonight,” Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe said. “Our defense worked very well in this match. The last time we played Thailand, they were very good at receiving. Today, we served better to make it more difficult for them to make combinations. (Hitomi) Nakamichi and (Arisa) Sato defended better and that boosts the rest of the team. Also, we reduced the speed of our setting, but that’s something we’re still working on.”
Both teams showed their defensive prowess early on, while Thailand’s Apinyapong sent down three zingers as a warning to Japan. But the scores stayed close. The teams were tied at 7-7 but Japan opened up a three-point gap at 12-9 after a spike by Shinnabe and a block by Sakoda on Sittirak. But a five-point run saw Thailand move from 11-15 to 16-15 and from that point on it was a battle. It was knotted at 19-19 when a brilliantly placed shot by Kimura set Japan on a three-point run from which it didn’t look back. Shinnabe brought up set point with a strong hit and an errant shot by Thailand’s Malika Kanthong put Japan 1-0 ahead.
The start of the second set was even more intense as Thailand — with a surprisingly vocal set of fans to support them — dug in and sought to break down the home team. Japan had a slight lead early on, but a rocket by Sittirak and an ace by Pleumjit Thinkaow put the Thais 8-7 ahead at the first technical timeout.
After Japan drew level at 9-9, the Thais got into a good rhythm and started to punish Japan. After Japan dropped behind 12-9, Manabe called a timeout.
The Thais followed up with bombs by Sittirak and Apinyapong and Manabe had to haul his players off court again. Nana Iwasaka finally responded for Japan with a neat tipover and an ace, but the Thais were three points ahead at the second TTO. Japan drew level at 19-19 after a great block by Kimura on Sittirak, which she followed up with an ace, prompting Thailand to call a timeout.
From 20-20, Thailand was able to take a two-point lead on the back of two Japan hitting errors, but good work by Shinnabe drew the teams level at 23. A superb quick combination by Thai setter Nootsara Tomkom and Thinkaow gave Thailand set point but the Japanese snuffed that out.
Japan saved one more Thai set point and the visitors two Japanese ones before Sakoda and Kimura ended the Thais’ resistance and put Japan 2-0 up.
“Because we lost to Thailand before, I’m happy we could win the match today with good spirit in the team,” Sakoda said later. “In the remaining games, I want to make sure our communication is OK and try to get the Japanese fans excited.”
After Thailand took a 5-4 lead in the third set, Japan responded with a five-point run that put it 9-5 ahead. Assisted by the classy setting of Tomkom, Sittirak and Apinyapong kept the Thais in the match with some determined hitting, and Japan only had a two-point cushion at the second TTO.
Sakoda kept the pressure on Thailand with some big hits from the right and Japan opened up a four-point lead from which the Thais couldn’t recover. Kimura brought up setpoint with a spike and ended the match with another emphatic kill.
“I agree with my players. Japan played well,” Thai coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai said. “I want to thank the Thai fans who came here from all over Japan. We’re very happy to play in Tokyo.
“We found out our errors and realize it’s not good enough for this tournament. We want to avoid injuries so we can play well against USA and Russia.”
Said Thai captain Apinyapong: “Japan played very well and we tried to do our best on all techniques and points. We still made mistakes but did much better than in the last two matches. Still, we know we have things to improve on.”
On Saturday, Japan will face the Dominican Republic, while Thailand will play the United States.