Jiangmen, China, January 11, 2020 – Embattled Iran carved out an epic 3-2 win against formidable Korea to advance to the final of the AVC Men’s Tokyo Qualification 2020 at the Jiangmen Sports Centre Gymnasium here on Saturday.
The Iran’s 22-25 25-21 25-18 22-25 15-13 win in the highly-anticipated semi-final clash which lasted 124 minutes not only repeated the feat against the same foes they had beaten in the final showdown of the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, but also smashed Korea’s long-awaited Olympics dreams. Korea had competed in the Olympic Games for eight times, but had not featured since the Sydney 2000 Games.
In their daunting clash against the Asian winners and world No.8, Korea fielded a strong lineup, four of them competed in the team which finished fourth place at the last year’s Asian Senior Men’s Championship in Iran including Shin Yung-Suk, who won the Best Middle Blocker Award there, while Iran also sent in a formidable squad which captured the Asian title on home soil last year and finished a surprise second place in the preliminary round of the 2019 Men’s VNL after winning 12 out of 15 matches contested among world’s top 16 teams.
Iran and Korea were ridiculed for error-strewn service in the opening set, but Jeon Kwang-In and left-hander Park Chul-Woo brought Korea back to the right track first, with the former producing thundering mid-court attacks and the latter carrying out terrific jump serves and exceptional spikes. Korea took the commanding lead with a six-point clear at 16-10. However, Iran put up with a good fight. Heroic efforts by Shahram Mahmoudi and Ali Shafiei helped Iran reduce the gap at 18-20. Still, Iran’s fightback did not last long as Korea went on their superb form. A lightning-fast spike from Choi Min-Ho gave the Koreans the first watchpoint at 24-22, but Iran blocked a Park Chul-Woo’s fierce attack. The referee ruled that the ball was in, but Korea disagreed with his decision and their challenge was successful. Korea claimed the first set 25-22.
In the second set, Iran regained their form and hit back with aggressive attacks, impeccable defence and powerful serves to race to an initial 18-13 lead. Korea gradually pulled their game together and their determination was fruitful when they kept the Iran’s attacks at bay, mixing the offensive mobility of Park Chul-Woo’s devastating attacks and Jeon Kwang-In’s incredible jumping ability for mid-court spikes. As Korea came close at 19-21, Iran had enough to hold them off and safely reach home at 25-21.
Another strong start from Ali Shafiei gave Iran an early lead 17-10 in the third set, but Korea regrouped and clawed back into the game to score four points in a row, thanks to Jeon Kwang-In’s powerful attacks and Park Chul-Woo’s terrific jump serves which saw the Koreans narrow the margin 14-17. However, their superb form was shortlived as Iran struck back mightily to clinch the set 25-18 and a 2-1 advantage.
In the fourth set, Korea, current world No.24 got off to a flying start to lead with a 4-point clear at 14-10 when Shin Yungsuk produced well-placed serves and Jeon Kwang-In penetrated the Iranian defence with his spectacular mid-court attacks. Korea still made the best of their chances and let their opponents back into the game. However, the Iran’s comeback effort wasn’t enough when Korea pulled away on home stretch to take the thrilling set 25-22, forcing the Iranians to compete in tie-breaker.
Both sides gave it all out in the deciding set to win the clash, but Iran remained in exceptional form. After leading commandingly 12-8, Iran, the only Asian team to compete at the 2016 Rio Games in Brazil, became prone to unforced errors, allowing Korea a brief comeback before winning the tense battle 15-13, match and a final berth.
Korea head coach Im Dohun: “We did our utmost for the match and I wanna say thank you to my players.”
Korea captain Shin Yungsuk: “I don’t feel regret as I have done my best.”
Iran head coach Serbian Igor Kolakovic: “It was a very special game for us as Korea put us under pressure from the beginning of game. They had good service and position in defense. We didn’t find a way to make some good services. But after the first set, we started to play much better, fighting for each point until the end. And I can be very happy to qualify for the final. I don’t care about who our opponents will be, tomorrow there will be new opportunity for us to win a so so much important game.”
Iran captain Mir Saeid Marouflankrani: “First of all, I’d like to say Congratulations to Korea, because today they did an amazing job and put us a lot of pressure. We had some mistakes but in the tie-breaker, we didn’t lose our focus and won this game. Now I wanna say we are happy to go the final. We don’t know which other team will qualify yet, but it will be much harder so we need to recover our body and forget this game. We have to play more than 100 percent for that. Today it was a good experience for us anyway.”
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