Chinese favourites, whilst Thailand in transition?

China and Thailand’s paths have intertwined so much recently. In the Asian Games 2018, the two nations fought for the gold medal which China won in straight sets. Barely a month after, both teams met in the semifinal of the AVC Cup for Women 2018. Thailand opted to field its main team given that they are the tournament hosts. Meanwhile, China opted for younger players for their top squad is already gearing up for the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship 2018.

The pulsating game lasted in five sets as the Chinese edged the Thais en route to their fifth Asian Women’s Volleyball Cup in six editions. Meanwhile, Thailand settled for bronze by winning against Chinese Taipei in four sets. With these recent success in the Asian volleyball circuit, both nations are coming into the World Championship brimming with confidence. But while China is one of the heavy favorites, Thailand is considered a dark horse that can give other teams a shock.

Team Thailand – tournament of transition

It’s no secret that the Thailand national women’s volleyball team is already ushering in younger faces to the squad. Chatchu-On Moksri had an impressive Asian Games 2018 outing before she succumbed to injury while Ajcharaporn Kongyot and Pimpichaya Kokram were hailed as second-best Outside Spiker and best Opposite Spiker in the 6th AVC Cup for Women, respectively. While this trio continues to improve with more international exposure, this development sends an underlying message of the inevitable.

This could be the last World Championship that we will see the super trio of Nootsara Tomkom, Wilavan Apinyapong, and team captain Pleumjit Thinkaow together. Having been part of the national team for almost two decades, they are a huge part of Thailand’s rise through the world rankings. While they are well-loved by their fans in Thailand and all over Asia, opponents dread them due to their quick attacks and high volleyball IQ. Though it’s still evident that they can perform at a high level, they may hang up their sneakers before the 2022 World Championship.

That being said, those three volleyball luminaries will not go down without a gallant fight. They will pour every ounce of their skill and energy to put up a great showing in this year’s FIVB Women’s Club World Championship . Nootsara will continue to dissect the opponent’s defense with her quick thinking while Pleumjit will be a force with her slides as Wilavan pounds the ball from the wing.

With the help of their quick sets and ferocious attacks, Thailand will try to improve from their 17th place finish during the 2014 World Championship in Italy and they have a deep roster to show for it. Pornpun Guedpard is an able replacement for Nootsara while Thatdao Nuekjang and Hattaya Bamrungsuk can give Pleumjit a breather at middle blocker. Onuma Sittirak is a dependable substitute for Ajcharaporn and Wilavan while Malika Kanthong will back-up Pimpichaya. Piyanut Pannoy and Supattra Pairoj are their defensive anchors at libero. Thailand’s talent development also continues with 19-year-old wing spiker Wipawee Srithong and 18-year-old opposite spiker Thanacha Sooksod.

The Danai Sriwachamaytakul-coached squad is part of Pool C in the 2018 FIVB Women’s World Championship. They will open the competition against Korea on September 29 and go up against Russia the day after. Their third game will be on October 2 against Trinidad and Tobago and they will be tested by defending champions USA the following day. The Thais will wrap up pool play against Azerbaijan on October 4.

Team China – the great wall of volleyball

In history, the Great Wall of China was built to repel enemy attacks. The same can be said in volleyball as China’s great wall of spikers continue to repel any challenge presented to them. The world’s number one ranked team is also the defending Summer Olympic champions and defending FIVB World Cup title holders. They are also the defending World Grand Champions Cup and the reigning Asian Games gold medalists without dropping a set.

However, their era of invincibility was shattered by the United States in the 2014 World Championship. This time, they are looking for payback especially when the American defeated them in the gold medal game by score lines of 25-27 and 26-24 in the first and fourth sets. With the World Championship happening in Asian soil, they are looking to win the nation’s third World Championship and first in over three decades.

Talent is not an issue for Coach Jenny Lang Ping’s squad. AVC Cup for Women 2018 Most Valuable Player Liu Yanhan will be part of the team but she will play the role of reserve in this squad. Even the likes of Yi Gao, Meng Zixuan, and Fang Duan will have a longer time sitting at the bench rather than playing in the court. They will get spot minutes but bulk of the playing time will be dedicated to their constellation of volleyball stars.

Only two syllables are needed to scare their opponents: Zhu Ting. The Most Valuable Player of the 2016 Rio Olympics was also hailed as the Best Outside Spiker in the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League held earlier this year. She is also the reigning MVP of the Turkish Volleyball League and is part of the defending champion Vakifbank Spor Kulubu. The scary part of it all is that this 6’ 6” phenom will turn just 24 years old in November.

While she is the undeniable best player and leader of the Chinese women’s volleyball team, they won’t be the best squad in the world without other impressive athletes. Setters Ding Xia, Diao Linyu, and Yao Di have an enviable job of distributing the ball to the likes of wing spiker Liu Xiaotong, opposite spiker Yang Fangxu, middle blocker Yuan Xinyue, and opposite spiker Li Yingying. Liberos Lin Li and Wang Menjie will fortify their floor defense while Zheng Yixin and Yan Ni are terrifying defenders in the net. With this roster, anything short of a semifinal berth will be a disappointment.

China is part of Pool B in the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship 2018 and will start their journey against Cuba on September 29. They will play Turkey on the 30th and Canada on October 2nd. After which, they will go up against Bulgaria and Italy in the next two days. Assisting Lang Ping in coaching duties are former national team players Lai Yawen and An Jiajie.