Montreux, Switzerland, June 2, 2016: Rank outsiders Thailand stole the show once more at the 2016 Montreux Volley Masters on Thursday, recovering from a two set deficit to stun the Netherlands and dramatically seal progression from Pool A. Defending-champions Turkey will have to wait to learn their fate after their own superb tiebreak victory over Brazil, whilst an earlier win for much fancied China over Belgium put them in pole position in Pool B.
China’s Gong Xiangyu was the lynchpin in the day’s opening match, pulling the strings and scoring 19 points as they disposed of Belgium in straight sets (25-23, 25-20, 25-21). Despite a flattering score-line in competitive sets, it was nonetheless a deserved victory after a composed performance from the Olympic qualifiers in the midst of a fast and frantic encounter. With two wins from three in the group, the Chinese are in pole position to qualify for the semi-finals. Belgium’s fate remains in their own hands, but on a knife-edge as they must beat Brazil on Friday to have any hope of qualifying for the next round.
Cue Turkey and Brazil, both teams desperately needing a win to keep their hopes of progression alive. A game of high stakes, the two teams served up an absolute blockbuster. It was Turkey who eventually managed to see off the South Americans 3:2 (25-19, 26-28, 20-25, 25-21, 15-12) after the second tiebreak of the 2016 tournament. The game itself was a nerve-shredding showdown, swinging one way, then the other before last year’s champions showed their pedigree, snatching the fourth set to secure a tiebreak which they eventually clinched after 2 hours and 42 minutes of play. It was the mixture of youth and experience in the Turkish ranks that eventually proved decisive over their younger opposition: Polen Uslupehlivan, a senior in Turkey’s team at 27, scored a phenomenal 28 points-more than any other player- with a further 20 from 18 year old Wing Spiker Hande Baladin.
But it was Thailand, who have already won the hearts of Volleyball fans everywhere, who took all the plaudits as their love affair continued at this year’s Montreux Masters. Ajcharaporn Kongyot was the catalyst as the Thais fought back from two sets down in a mesmerising clash to beat the Netherlands 3:2 (26-28, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-10) sending the travelling contingent of Thai supporters into raptures. It was Thailand’s second tiebreak win in two days, the latest rollercoaster triumph topping the first, catapulting the day’s unforgettable action beyond midnight in a tempestuous battle. They looked down and out at two sets down, lacking the spark that had undone Serbia the previous night. But having dug in and gained a foothold in the game, Ajcharaporn weaved her magic, with an extraordinary and unprecedented 34 point scoring run dragging the Thais out of the fire. Then, on the crest of a wave of momentum, they soared to an unlikely yet spellbinding victory to put the gloss on nearly seven and a half hours of volleyball.
With Thailand through in Pool A, Serbia and the Netherlands will clash swords for the other semi-final spot at 9:15pm CET on Friday, whilst in Pool B, it is do or die for Belgium as they face Brazil in a bid to usurp a place in the next round from China or Turkey who currently occupy the top two positions. All in all, it has been yet another extraordinary match day in Montreux, and with the fans to be out in force with tickets for Friday’s fixtures sold out, another day of unmissable sporting theatre is sure to follow.