Know thy 2018 Asian Games Group A opponent: Thailand

Quick. Technical. Disciplined.

In just three words, I have summarized the traits that have made Thailand one of the top volleyball nations in Asia. They are the undisputed queens of Southeast Asia by winning all but two gold medals since the 1989 SEA Games in Malaysia while dropping only six sets in the last seven editions. They are also catching up with the likes of China, Japan, and South Korea by getting their first Asian Games podium finish in 2014.

But even formidable squads experience crisis along the way. For one, national team head coach Danai Sriwatcharamethakul is trying to adapt a style of play that the Thais are not accustomed to. In hopes of improving its competitiveness in the global stage, the squad is trading its identity for a more European-style approach that is executed on a slower pace and favors attacks from Open Spikers. But regardless of transition, the Thai women’s volleyball team remains a formidable unit featuring a mix of seasoned and young players.

Who to look out for in Team Thailand

The trio of Nootsara Tomkom, Wilavan Apinyapong, and Pleumjit Thinkaow has been the steady core of the national squad for almost two decades. Tomkom is the perfect setter for their blitz-type offense while Apinyapong has been a gem at opposite spiker by leading the nation to Asian Women’s Volleyball titles in 2009 and 2013. Meanwhile, Thinkaow is an intelligent and impenetrable force at middle blocker.

Given their advanced age, the upcoming tournament in Indonesia might be the last Asian Games that they will play together. Still, it’s hard to count out such decorated and grizzled veterans even though they saw limited action during the Volleyball Nations League. But should they decide to retire from international competition, the future looks bright for the 16th best women’s volleyball country in the world as per FIVB rankings.

Following Nootsara’s footsteps is Pornpun Guedpard who has been named Best Setter in the 2016 Asian Club Championship. Meanwhile, the defensive tone will be set by 2017-18 Thai League Best Libero Supattra Pairoj and the shifty Piyanut Pannoy. Stabilizing the defense up front are 2017 Asian Championship Best Middle Blocker Hattaya Bamrungsuk and Thatdao Nuekjang.

Firepower is not a question for the Thai squad for Nootsara or Pornpun can deliver the ball to powerful hitters like middle blocker Chitaporn Kamlangmak, opposite spiker Malika Kanthong, and 2017-18 Thailand League Most Valuable Player Ajcharaporn Kongyot. Defending Thailand League Best Outside Spiker Onuma Sittirak, 2017 Asian U23 Championship Best Opposite Spiker Pimpichaya Kokram, and teenage wonder Chatchu-on Moksri can also deliver toasty kills when their number is called.

Those who follow Thai volleyball closely would notice that I mentioned the entire team. That’s exactly how formidable their Asian Games 2018 roster is. Anyone is worthy of first six consideration and the level of talent doesn’t drop across the board. With this assembly of players, I expect them to make a deep run in the tournament and probably match their bronze medal finish four years ago.

Prediction for the PhilippinesThailand match

The Philippine women’s volleyball team will open their Asian Games campaign against Thailand on August 19. While I can convince myself that our players can upset them, the Thais are just in another dimension in terms of skill, technical knowledge and cohesion. Expect Team Thailand to conduct a barrage of forceful attacks from the wings at a pace that the Philippine team might not be accustomed to.

The last time the two teams met, Thailand breezed to the finals of the 2017 SEA Games in straight sets (25-21, 25-17, 25-17). I expect the same result during their Group A encounter in the 2018 Asian Games. The Philippines will have the energy to keep it close early in the game, only to fall short in the end.

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