Thai women stretch dominance with 10th straight volleyball gold
Thailand's women volleyball team target Asian domination next
Vietnam again had to settle for the role of bridesmaids as they failed to serve up an upset against regional volleyball giants Thailand.
In front of a capacity crowd at the OCBC Arena Hall 2 yesterday, the Thais were crowned champions of South-east Asia for the 10th consecutive time since 1995 (volleyball did not feature in the 1999 Games), with a convincing 3-0 victory.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Vietnam, who have yet to win the elusive gold, and had to settle for silver for an eighth consecutive time.
"Thailand are just stronger than Vietnam, the gap between us and them is still very big," said Vietnam's head coach Thai Thanh Tung.
"We have many things to work on to reduce this gap and finally win the gold medal, but we will try."
Wilavan Apinyapong, captain of the Thai team, said of her team's opponents: "Vietnam tried to make it difficult for us and every point was a challenge.
"They have improved and they have a lot of tall players in the team.
"Maybe what they need now is more experience."
The Thais looked superior from the start, turning defence to attack with ease early in the first set.
But Vietnam's libero, Pham Thi Lien, threw herself at almost every spike to keep her team in the match.
The teams regularly traded points, but that wasn't enough to stop the 11-time SEA Games champions from taking the first set 25-18.
A large crowd of Thai fans - some dressed in traditional garb complete with headgear - even managed to start a Kallang Wave inside the arena during technical time-outs.
They brought instruments to cheer on their team, and the cacophony of noise seemed to work.
The narrow lead the Vietnamese held at the start of the second set evaporated, as Thailand stormed their way to a 25-18 win.
In the final set, Thailand's Onuma Sittirak, who was already having a brilliant game with her lightning-quick spikes, found another level.
The 29-year-old left even the Vietnamese supporters in awe as she managed to string five consecutive points using only her killer serve.
She eventually won 26 of her team's 75 points, far more than any other player on court.
Inspired by her performance, the Thais raised their game and won the final set convincingly 25-15.
"This year was better than last, the (difference in) points was quite far and we served very well. We hope to play at this level for a long time," said Apinyapong.
Her coach, Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai, added: "We showed very good teamwork.
"Vietnam improved a lot from last year, which means we need to improve even more.
"It was our first target in our long-term plan to be the leaders of South-east Asia. Next, we want to be the best in Asia, and then (make it to the) top 12 in the world."
"We want to be the best in Asia, and then (make it to the) top 12 in the world."
- Thai volleyball coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai