Taipei, Chinese Taipei, April 25, 2019 – Unbeaten Panasonic Panthers cruised past formidable Al-Rayyan into the final showdown of the 2019 Asian Men’s Club Volleyball Championship after epic hard-fought five-set win in the semi-final clash at the University of Taipei (Tianmu) Gymnasium on Thursday.

With a terrific comeback 3-2 (19-25 25-19 25-23 19-25 15-9) win, Panthers, which have their sights firmly set on winning Japan’s first-ever Asian Men’s Club title in Taipei, go up against Cultural and Sports Club of Varamin Municipality of Iran in a rematch of the top-eight playoff Pool F. Varamin went down 2-3 to the Japanese giants in exhausting five sets.

In the do-or-die semi-final encounter on Thursday, Panthers fielded a powerful lineup spearheaded by Polish Michel Kubiak, who led Poland national team to back-to-back World Championship title, and star spiker Issei Otake, while Al-Rayyan were also offensively strong with the likes of the 206cm-tall ace spiker Kamil Rychlicki, who hails from Luxembourg, Brazilian Mascus Costa and powerful attacker Youssef Oughlaf.

After the match, Panasonic Panthers head coach Shinji Kawamura, his eyes brimmed with tears of joy, said, “Al-Rayyan have tall players with good service. We just did our best step by step and tried to think about how we could win. That’s why we won. The key point of my team’s success was that we never give up and we just tried our best from the very beginning to the end and my players did a good job in this match. We played five sets in the semi-finals and I really don’t know if we will play five sets again in the final round. We are here to win the championship and we will do our best to accomplish that goal in our final match.’”

Like the Japanese team, Varamin also struggled in their semi-final match as they survived a scare from Chennai Spartans to overpower the Indian side in magnificent four-setter 25-23 25-22 22-25 27-25.

Iran is defending and successive three-time champions in this topnotch championship, with Sarmayeh Bank Tehran winning in 2016 and 2017 and Khatam Ardakan reigning supreme in 2018. With the 3-1 win against Chennai Spartans on Thursday, Varamin became the 7th club team from Iran to contest the final showdown.

Varamin’s head coach Mohammadirad Rahman said, “It was a very difficult match, especially after the third set, they played well with good attacks. Their middle blockers did a good job in some moments, but we were successful in blocking them and then we had the net problem. At the beginning, we also made problems with service to their receivers and attacks and after that they started to make good reception and mid-court attacks.

“I think the challenge system made us very nervous. In our final against the Japanese, we hope to make a revenge against them because we played them once and lost to them earlier in this tournament. However, since the final is very important for us, I hope that we can win the final match. The Japanese team played well against Al-Rayyan and I think they are a strong team,” said Mohammadirad Rahman, adding that he has just become a head coach.

“I’m still young. Last year, I started working as head coach of this club. We took the championship in Iran and we are here for the first time, with me working as the head coach. I also used to be assistant coach for several occasions.”

In the 5th-8th playoff matches earlier, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Sports Club demolished Australia’s Queensland Pirates in dramatic four-setter at the University of Taipei (Tianmu) Gymnasium on Thursday.

With the convincing 25-22 25-17 29-31 25-21 victory, the Sri Lankans now face hosts Taichung Bank to battle for the 5th position in this top-tier competition, while Queensland Pirates take on Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City in the 7th-8th playoff.

“We are lucky to win the match. I think the Australians’ form is not that stable. Sometimes they played bad and sometimes they played good. Actually, we initially expected to win this match in three sets, but the Australians just came back much strong in the third set. It is likely that we will play hosts Taichung Bank for the 5th place. My team set our initial target of a top eight finish and after we did it, we nowhere to maintain our good form to compete in the 5th-6th playoff match. So, we have to do our best to grab the 5th place in this tournament no matter how tough it will be in the Friday’s match.

On Friday, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Sports Club will challenge in-form Taichung Bank, which pulled off a scintillating straight-set 25-21 25-22 25-21 win against Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, in the 5th-6th playoff.

In the press conference room, Taichung Bank’s head coach Moro Branislav from Serbia expressed his satisfaction over the win. “It’s great to win 3-0. I would like to congratulate my team, my players and everyone who supported us on this crucial win. We played this match with a big problem when a few players in our team sustained injuries. However, I feel proud when seeing my team with two injured players win the match in straight sets. One thing we should be proud of is that my young team are assured of finishing among top six in the tournament, which of course is better than the eighth position of a Chinese Taipei team in the previous edition in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Polri Samator Indonesia put it past fighting Est Cola of Thailand in dramatic four sets 25-21 19-25 25-19 25-21 at the National Taipei University of Education Gymasium to return with the 9th place, leaving the Thai side to finish 10th position in this tournament.

In the 11th-12th playoff, Kazakhstan’s TNC Kazchrome VC proved a class above Galkan to pull off a hard-fought five-set 25-21 25-20 22-26 29-31 15-8 win against the Turkmenistan side and claimed the 11th place. Galkan ended in 12th position.

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