Thailand ready for battle after prelims cruise

Asian powers China, Japan await in next phase

Taiwan's Chang Li-yun attempts a block against Thailand's Hattaya Bamrungsuk during their final Pool D match at Alonte Sports Arena yesterday.

After three comfortable straight-set wins in the preliminary round of the 2017 Asian Women's Championship, Thailand face a tough battle when the second round begins tomorrow.

Chasing their third Asian title, Thailand are in Pool F along with three-time winners Japan, defending champions China and Taiwan after completing their preliminary round with a third straight 3-0 win yesterday.

Kazakhstan, South Korea, Vietnam and hosts the Philippines are in Pool E of the second round.

Teams that have already met in the preliminaries do not play again in the second round.

Thailand, who beat Taiwan 26-24, 25-14, 25-15 yesterday for their third successive victory, advanced as Pool D winners while Taiwan also made it through. Iran picked up their first win after beating the Maldives 3-0 (25-4, 25-13, 25-14) in the other game in the pool.

The second round is another set of pool games, the results of which only determine the quarter-final match-ups. A team winning their pool will meet the bottom-ranked side of the other pool. Likewise, the second-placed teams will meet the third-placed countries of the other pool.

Eighteen-year-old rising Thai star Chatchu-on Moksri had another excellent game yesterday, scoring 20 points against Taiwan. Wilavan Apinyapong had 15 points, while Hattaya Bamrungsuk added 12. Tseng Wan-ling was Taiwan's top-scorer with 11.

"We had a slow start in the opening set but did much better in the second and the third," said captain Pleumjit Thinkaow who was brought on late in the third set. "It was a good win."

Pleumjit, who is close to full fitness after having recovered from a hip injury, expected another tough match against arch-rivals Japan in the second round of the championship.

"It's always tough playing Japan. We played them twice at the World Grand Prix last month and lost both times. So we have to go back to the drawing board and see what we did wrong in those two losses and try to improve.

Thai players cheer their team from the sidelines.

"It's going to be interesting to see what we can do this time around."

"We were slow out of the blocks and Taiwan really gave us trouble but we improved in the last two sets," added Pimpichaya Kokram, another up-and-coming player.

She urged the Thai fans to continue their support for the team.

"I hope the fans keep on cheering us in this championship. It's only going to get tougher from now on."

Title-holders China bounced back from a stunning loss against Japan on Thursday with a 3-0 (25-13, 25-8, 25-9) win over Australia yesterday. They progressed with Pool B winners Japan.

South Korea defeated Vietnam 3-1 (25-23, 25-19, 17-25, 25-22) yesterday to claim their third straight win and the top spot in Pool C. They qualified with Vietnam while Sri Lanka and New Zealand, already out of contention with two losses, were due to meet later.

Kazakhstan beat hosts the Philippines 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-19) yesterday to finish as Pool A winners. Both team were already assured of qualification prior to the match with wins over Hong Kong.

Thailand won the title twice in 2009 and 2013 with victories over China and Japan respectively.

China are the most successful team having won the title 13 times.

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