Thailand (THA) vs. Korea (KOR) women - Pool 2 - Preliminary Phase #15723902

After their first win in three years, Korea are looking for more in the VNL 2024

Korea’s long wait for a Volleyball Nations League victory came to an end after almost three years on Sunday as they topped Asian rivals Thailand in Rio de Janeiro. Hosts Brazil and the United States also secured wins on the last day of the first week of the Preliminary Phase.

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The last match held at the Maracanãzinho stadium in Pool 2 reunited two national teams still looking for their first victories in the VNL 2024 and Korea came out on top, beating Thailand 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-16, 25-18) to feel the taste of victory for the first time in almost three years.

The Koreans, who were winless in the 2022 and 2023 editions of the VNL and had also dropped their first three matches in Rio this week, were on the losing side of their last 30 matches in the tournament entering the duel against Thailand, with their most recent victory dating back to June 14, 2021, when they topped Canada in the tie-breaker.

The victory also helped the team take its first step towards the goal set by new head coach Fernando Morales of climbing the FIVB World Rankings as the result earned the Koreans 13.69 points, moving six spots up, from 43rd to 37th, with 104.59 points. Thailand, on the other hand, now see their dream of qualifying for the Paris Olympics even more distant as they dropped to 14th place in the World Rankings with 199.90, expanding the gap between Canada, the last team inside the qualification zone, and them to 90.71 points.

Outside hitter So-Hwi Kang was instrumental in Korea’s victory, leading the team on the court with 22 points (21 kills, one ace). Opposite and team captain Jeong-Ah Park and fellow outside hitter Ji-Yun Jeong added 16 points each.

“It took us three years to get this win,” middle blocker Da-Hyeon Lee remarked. “We had a hard time with the changes we faced in the national team and it’s an honor to win against such a strong opponent. Thailand are a similar team to us in terms of physicality, so we knew this was a match we could win and we really wanted it. This victory gives us more confidence and we hope we can do better than we did in the last two years.”

Thailand, who completed the first week of the VNL 2024 with four losses, no points and just three sets won, got 32 points from their outside hitter duo of Chatchu-On Moksri (17) and Wipawee Srithong (15).

“This was a tough result for us,” said opposite Thanacha Sooksod. “We didn’t win any matches this week and made a lot of mistakes in our game. We’ll need to reset things and come back. Now we need to focus on the upcoming weeks. We know we can do better and I believe we will.”

Brazil complete week one undefeated

The sixth and last day of matches in Rio de Janeiro started with another Brazilian victory, the fourth in as many matches this week. Playing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Maracanãzinho, they topped world champions Serbia 3-0 (25-15, 25-19, 25-19) to please their fans.

Star outside hitter Gabriela ‘Gabi’ Guimarães led Brazil’s offense with 15 points (12 kills, two blocks, one ace) and celebrated her 30th birthday in style, with thousands of fans cheering her after the end of the match.

“The fans have been amazing all week, pushing us in every match,” she said. “And today they really made my birthday really special.”

Opposite Rosamaria Montibeller scored 12 points, one more than outside hitter Ana Cristina Souza. On the Serbian side, opposite and team captain Ana Bjelica and outside hitter Vanja Ivanović were the most productive players with nine points apiece.

The victory against the world champions made of Brazil one of just two undefeated teams in week one, alongside Poland. The South Americans also earned 8.49 world ranking points, solidifying their second-place spot, behind defending champions Türkiye. Serbia dropped the same amount, but still remained in seventh place.

The United States, who were coming from back-to-back losses to China and Brazil, left Rio de Janeiro on a high after they defeated NORCECA rivals the Dominican Republic 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-18) also on Sunday.

Avery Skinner and Chiaka Ogbogu combined for 30 points, with the outside hitter producing 18 and the middle blocker adding another 12. Outside hitter Brayelin Martínez was the Dominican leading scorer with 11 points.

The 7.96 points earned with the sweep helped the United States gain a spot in the World Rankings, moving up to fourth place. The Dominicans remained in ninth place.

Volleyball Nations League 2024: schedule and results

The women will now have a week off in the VNL 2024 before returning to the court from May 28 to June 2. Brazil, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand and hosts China will play in Macau while Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Korea, Poland, Serbia, Türkiye and hosts USA will compete in Arlington.

Next week, the men will start their campaigns with pools in Rio de Janeiro (Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan and Serbia) and Antalya (Bulgaria, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Türkiye and USA).

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