Iran Crashed Host Thailand in Pulsating Four Sets
Title-hotshots Iran survived a sturdy challenge from Thailand to power past the host side in pulsating four sets 25-22 28-30 25-20 25-16 to book the last semi-final berth at the “SMM” 5th AVC Cup for Men at the Nakhon Pathom Gymnasium here on Monday.
Iran, current world No.7 and the only team from Asia to compete in the Rio Olympic Games where they finished joint fifth place in their debut Olympic effort, fielded a strong line-up led by powerful Alireza Mobasheri, muscular Rahman Davoodi and Reza Ghara, while powerful attacker Jirayu Raksakaew, Kittikun Sri-utthawong and Kitsada Somkane spearheaded the host side.
Iran, which captured the 2008 and 2010 AVC Cup titles but returned from Almaty, Kazakshtan two years ago with their heads low in disappointment after finishing a below-par fourth place, took command initially in the first set. Kitsada and Jirayu uncorked a barrage of sharp attacks to help Thailand catch up with the formidable visitors at 17-17. A powerful jump serve by Kitsada moved the hosts in advance 18-17. However, Iran upped their tempo and roared back with kills to catch up with Thailand 21-21 and continued their superb form to take the thrilling first set 25-22.
Iran still dominated the second set, with Mobasheri overcoming the Thai blockers with his exceptional spikes to put the visitors in front 13-7. After that, Thailand gradually pulled their game together. Jirayu carried out terrific jump serves, while young Kantapat Koonme, who replaced Kittikun, became a force to reckoned with as he blocked effectively and attacked devastatingly to help Thailand level 25-25. Cheered on boisterously by drum-beating local fans at the venue, Thailand maintained their poise and played cool under pressure. The game was more thrilling with leads changing hands a few times in a battle locked in a tight contest. The Thais fared better at the end to clinch the action-packed set 30-28.
In the third set, both teams gave it all-out, but in the middle of the set, Iran proved a cut above the rivals as they made the hosts flat-footed for several times with their thundering cross-court attacks. As Iran were leading 24-20 for good, a powerful jump serve from Kitsada went wide, leaving the visitors to snatch the close set 25-20.
Iran rolled on their attacking rhythm in the fourth set which saw Iran take an initial 14-7 lead. Thailand tried to study the Iranian game and cope with the rivals’ tactics. However, despite putting up a brave fight, the hosts found the visitors too strong in this set. Iran made short work of Thailand to capture the comfortable set 25-16 and match.
With the dramatic 3-1 win, Iran next take on Japan, the team they had already beaten in straight sets in the preliminary Pool B clash, in the Tuesday’s semi-finals. Thailand will contest the 5th-8th classification round.
Rahman Davoodi tallied 18 points for Iran including 14 kills from 22 attempts. Reza Ghara added with 12 kills. Masoud Gholami Renani contributed with 7 kill blocks and Reza Ghara 5. Jirayu Raksakaew top scored with 19 points for Thailand including 18 kills from 45 attempts.
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