PAKISTAN, KOREA AND AUSTRALIA SECURE QUARTERFINAL BERTHS IN AVC CHALLENGE CUP FOR MEN

PAKISTAN, KOREA AND AUSTRALIA SECURE QUARTERFINAL BERTHS IN AVC CHALLENGE CUP FOR MEN

Bahrain compete against Philippines at the packed venue on Monday

Isa Town, Bahrain, June 3, 2024 – Fired-up Pakistan pulled off upset win against reigning champions Thailand, Korea stunned Qatar in epic tie-breaker and Australia overpowered Vietnam in straight sets, seeing the three winners secure their berths in the highly-anticipated quarterfinals of the 2024 AVC Challenge Cup for Men at the Isa Sports City Hall C here on Monday.

With only top two teams from each pool through to the cross quarterfinals and the third-placed sides relegated to Classification Round for 9th-12th place, Pakistan, Korea and Australia have already claimed back-to-back wins and looked set to top their pools at the end of the pool round-robin preliminaries.

On Monday, Australia demolished Vietnam 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 28-26) in Pool D, while Pakistan upset Thailand 3-0 (25-22, 25-14, 25-21) in Pool B, Korea stunned Qatar 3-2 (25-16, 19-25, 25-16, 22-25, 20-18) in Pool C and hosts Bahrain powered past Philippines 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-20).

In their title defence in the tournament, world No.64 Thailand, which finished 7th place at the FIVB Challenger Cup 2023 in Doha, Qatar, are competing without two key players, Anut Promchan, who sustained an injury, and  Napadet Bhinijdee, who could not join the team due to his commitment in the Indonesian Proliga.

World No.49 Pakistan, which emerged triumphant at the recent CAVA Nations League on home soil in Islamabad, fielded a formidable lineup which beat Kazakhstan in straight sets on Sunday including Ali Usman Faryad, who landed the Best Outside Hitter and MVP in the CAVA Nations League, Musawer Khan and Murad Khan.

Thailand made a good start in the first set to take the initial lead 9-7, courtesy of left-hander Amornthep Khonhan and powerful Jakkrit Thanomnoi. Pakistan came back with mighty attacks and effective blocks to level it at 11 and broke away 18-15. To improve on their inconsistent offensive system, Thailand sent in Thanarat Thaweerat and Prasert Pinkaew, but their intention did not pay off as Pakistan maintained their momentum with swift counter-attacks and solid blocks to win the hard-fought first set 25-22.

The second set became one-way traffic as Pakistan led from start to finish. Taking the commanding lead with a seven-point clear at 21-14, the Pakistanis countered with powerful spikes to score four successive points for the comfortable 25-14 win.

Conceding two straight sets, Thailand tightened their defence to level it at 14-14 in the third set. Pakistan fought back, with Musawer Khan and Murad Khan tearing the Thai defence into shreds with their exceptional spikes to help Pakistan extend the lead to 22-19. Left-hander Amornthep navigated past the Pakistani blocks, rekindling Thai hopes of comeback to trail closely at 21-23. However, the Thai challenge was short-lived as the 206cm-tall Almal Khan attacked devastatingly to move Pakistan to the set point 24-21 before a spike from Thailand’s outside hitter Anurak Phanram went wide. Pakistan captured the set 25-21 and match.

Murad Khan tallied 20 points from 19 kills and one block for Pakistan, while Amornthep Khonhan led Thailand with 11 points. Jakkrit Thanomnoi and Anurak Phanram added 10 and 8 points respectively.

With the upset loss, Thailand will now play a must-win match against Kazakhstan on Tuesday to keep their hopes of advancing alive. Pakistan successfully secured their berth in the quarterfinals.

 

Meanwhile, world No.34 Australia, fresh from beating world No.44 Chinese Taipei in convincing straight sets, continued their strong fightback in an effort of repeating their success in the opener and ensuring their berth in the quarterfinals of the continental competition.

Their excellent teamwork with good combinations and powerful attacks proved too much for the lower-ranked Southeastern rivals as the Aussies, with opposite Matthew Aubrey and outside hitter Ethan Garrett on fire, comfortably took the first two sets 25-18, 25-17.

The Vietnamese challenge came to life in the third set when they bounced back gallantly. Outside hitter Nguyen Ngoc Thuan played a key role in the team’s counter-attack, overcoming the taller blockers with his powerful attacks to score 10 points in this set. However, it was not enough for the Vietnam’s comeback. Leveling 24-24 and again 26-26, Australia went on relentless attacks to win two points in a row for the eventual 28-26 win in the set and the 3-0 match.

Matthew Aubrey delivered 17 points including 14 kills for Australia, with Ethan Garrett and Thomas Heptinstall adding 10 points apiece for the victory. Nguyen Ngoc Thuan registered a match-high 20 points from 17 kills and 3 aces on the Vietnam’s loss.

With two wins in succession, Australia booked their berth in the quarterfinals, while Vietnam will next take on Chinese Taipei to vie for the remaining slot in Pool D.

In Pool C, debutants Qatar, determined to show their potential on the continental stage after picking up silver medal at the 2023 FIVB Challenger Cup on their home soil in Doha, suffered a setback in their hard-fought opener against Korea, current No.27 with 140.34 points on the FIVB world ranking following their convincing win on Sunday.

With the Koreans already leading Pool C with the straight-set win against their Southeast Asian counterparts Indonesia, Qatar had their sights firmly set on securing a positive result in their crucial opening match which would significantly boost their morale for the team’s campaign in the eight-day tournament. However, things turned sour for the Qataris as the Koreans, coached by Brazilian Issanaye Ramires Ferraz, lived up to expectations in the hard-fought five-set thriller, stunning the mighty Qataris 25-16, 19-25, 25-16, 20-25, 20-18 in exhausting 135 minutes. 

Korea’s main attackers rose to the occasion and thrived in the offensive system orchestrated by setter and skipper Hwang Taekeui, with Shin Hojin and Kim Jihan leading the team’s efforts. Qatar also fought well, with veteran middle blocker Ibrahim Ibrahim Mohamed puncturing the Korean blockers with his exceptional attacks.

As Qatar had some ups and downs, the Koreans shone through their brilliance with consistency and excellent combination attacks. After leveling at 2-2 sets, both sides poured everything they had to win the decisive set. It became an intense, do-or-die tie-breaker as Qatar and Korea still played their near-flawless game to even the score at 18-18. However, the Koreans fared a bit better at the home stretch and had a final say for the hard-fought win 20-18 in the decider and the dramatic 3-2 win in this electrifying match.

Korea had five players who reached double digits in scoring, with Shin Hojin registering 19 points including 18 kills. Lim Sungjin and Kim Jihan kept good company to respectively deliver 17 and 15 points, with Hwang Taekeui and Lee Sanghyeon adding 11 and 10 points respectively. Ibrahim Ibrahim Mohamed was the Qatar’s most productive player to score a match-high 22 points from 14 kills, team-leading 7 blocks and one ace on the team’s loss.

Following the loss in their campaign opener, Qatar on Tuesday will now play Indonesia in a must-win match to ensure their quarterfinal berth. Korea, winning two matches on the trot, secured their quarterfinals slot.

In Pool A, after dropping hard-fought straight sets in their campaign opener against Asian powerhouses and world No.32 China on Sunday, world No.57 Philippines found themselves in a must-win situation in their second encounter against Bahrain, silver medallists at the previous edition in Chinese Taipei last year. Still, although putting up a valiant effort, the Philippines fell short to the well-established hosts in thrilling three-setter 18-25, 23-25, 20-25.

Both sides started a solid first set to compete neck and neck, but after the 12-all deadlock,  the Bahrainis came up with better combination attacks to surge ahead 13-12 and broke away 22-15 to comfortably take the first set 25-18.

The second set was more thrilling as the Philippines played with more determination and confidence. Outside spikers Marck Jesus Espejo and Jade Alex Disquilado offensively combined well to win crucial points for the Philippines. Leveling at 21-21, Bahrain went on their aggressive attacks to take a narrow 24-23 lead and skipper Anan Naser denied the rivals’ comeback with a powerful cross-court attack for a 25-23 win in the closely-contested set and the commanding 2-0 lead.

The rhythm was with the host side in the third set, brewing a solid blend of offense and defence to take the lead with a four-point clear at 22-18. Middle blocker Kim Malabunga produced lightning-fast spikes in an effort of snatching the momentum from the Bahrainis, but the host side were just too hot for the visitors to handle. Middle blocker Haider Hasan, opposite Abdulla Mohamed and Khamis Ali superbly orchestrated offense with attacks and solid blocks to slam the door of challenge shut on the Philippines to help Bahrain clinch the third set 25-20 and match. 

Outside hitter Abdulla Mohamed Yaqoob chipped in with 15 points from 12 kills and team-leading 3 blocks for Bahrain, while middle blocker Abudulla Mohamed and opposite Khamis Ali contributed 11 points apiece. No Philippines player reached double digits in scoring against the rivals, with outside hitter Joshua Umandal scoring 9 points on the team’s loss and middle blocker Kim Malabunga and outside hitter and skipper Marck Jesus Espejo adding 8 points apiece. 

Following the straight-set loss, Philippines, sliding to current world No.61 with 46.58 points on the FIVB world ranking, now set their sights on the Classification Round for 9th-12th places. Bahrain and China, three points each after winning one match apiece, have secured their slots in the quarterfinals. The battle among them on Tuesday will decide which team will top Pool A. 

On Tuesday, the last day of the pool round-robin preliminaries, Thailand will take on Kazakhstan in Pool B, with Indonesia challenging Qatar in Pool C, Chinese Taipei facing off against Vietnam and China playing Bahrain.

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