SPORT

Iran, Thailand have it easy as China struggles again

Visakhapatnam April 9. It was quite a contrast. Iran and Thailand won their matches with near clinical precision, while China had to fight hard to down South Korea in the fourth Asian Youth (boys) volleyball championship at the Rajiv Gandhi Port indoor stadium here on Wednesday.

Thailand overcame a bit of shaky start to down Qatar 28-26, 25-19, 28-26 in Group A. Iran combined smoothly to crush Australia at 25-15, 25-18, 25-22 and China rallied strongly to get the better of South Korea at 16-25, 25-20, 25-22, 27-25 in two Group B matches that gave some glimpses of the shape of things to come in that pool.

As there is no clear knock-out system from the second phase, teams are still fighting it out for better places in each pool. The system works like this — elimination and placing matches. The A1, A2, A3, A4 teams will meet B4, B3, B2, B1 respectively in the next stage. So all teams still have hopes of going up and it means every team will keep fighting till it reaches the top.

With its third win, Iran tops the group, while Australia, which has lost three matches and won only one, has to wait for its ranking till the South Korea-North Korea encounter on Thursday. South Korea, which suffered its third successive defeat, is heading for the last place in the group.

China, trying to avoid a further slide in the group, was determined to fight to get a better placing. But South Korea had other ideas.

The Koreans began as if they had done their homework better. Their first pass was good, the attack had the bite and the block rattled the Chinese spikers. Before China could understand what was happening Korea bagged the set.

Left-hander and captain Chul-woo Park, the tallest in the main team, led the attack with his thundering smashes and China failed to coordinate its defence in order to stop him. He was the real threat for China throughout the match. His left-arm crosscourt and down the line smashes kept coming and he was deceptive too.

Korea continued in the same vein in the second set too to take a commanding 14-9 lead. China, under pressure, responded by equalising at 16 as the two Wangs — Lei and Zhen — rose to the occasion by spiking with good control. More than that China's block became strong. Dawei Yu, Lei Wang and Ming Wei Zhang, who also spiked intelligently in the latter part of the match, put up strong block and Korea found the going tough.

It was here that Korea lost the grip and main referee Vasu of India faced some anxious moments as there were disputes and counter-disputes. But he brought things under control quickly and China won the set with better block and attack.

From then on it was China all the way. Whether it was serve or spiking, the Wangs found their touch and rattled Korea time and again with superb finishing. They did not give Korea any chance to come back.

Korea's game fluctuated according to Chul-Woo's spiking. He brought Korea close with his superb spiking to 21-22 but also hit the ball into the net and China took a 2-1 lead.

In the fourth set it was a neck and neck race till 21-20 in favour of China. There was some resistance but China recovered well to win the match.

Soleymani sounds like an Indian name, rather a Tamil name. The short Mohammed Soleymani, Iran's best spiker, has a superb jump with which he reaches almost to the antenna to hit. It is difficult to stop him and the Aussies' block was too weak to do it.

In every match he attempts 30 to 35 shots and his scoring rate is about 70 to 90 per cent. No wonder then Iran does so well on the court. In fact, all the main spikers of Iran are `flyers' and it is difficult to catch them.

The Iranian spikers were deceptive, going for a late jump and spike, and the Australian players did not see the trick. They also should have gone for late jump for the block but by the time they came down, the Iranian spikers were on top! That was why even short spikers had such a fantastic spiking rate.

Salehi, who let go his thundering jumper serve, Sadeghi and Sadeghyani formed the second line attack. The tall Ranjbar did a good job in block and short ball attack. In fact, Iran used the short ball attack more today. But Iran did not need them that much as Soleymani was spiking brilliantly to give valuable points to the side. He was coming to the rescue of the team whenever it was shaky.

At no point Iran was really under pressure. Only in the third set did Australia start well by blocking and attacking with good control. It took a 10-5 lead as Christensen Za was unstoppable. But the team could not consolidate its lead as it lost points through net touch and poor back court defence.

The Iranian spikers went for placements to avoid the block and succeeded. There was no consistency in Australia's game and that suited Iran.

In the opening match Thailand exposed the poor defence of Qatar, which was very bad in retrieving block rebounds and placements. Even Qatar's spiking did not have the punch that Thailand had.

Once again it was Wanchai who did bulk of the spiking for Thailand. Though Thailand's block was not strong, it managed to effectively shut out Qatar.

Ali Hamid, Hassan and Amer, the main spikers for Qatar, struggled for points. And there was not much of a net defence to stop Wanchai.

Shotivat proved his all round ability as blocker and spiker and Sukthworn, Samthong and Wittaya lent good support both in dig and defence. That was why Thailand could take the match even when Qatar was on set point (25-24) in the third set.

Thursday's matches: Qatar v India (1 p.m.), DPR Korea v South Korea (3 p.m.), Iran v China.