China looked to captain Liu Xiaotong and she duly delivered with 17 points and, just as important, a calming presence as the world’s number one ranked team downed a spirited Thailand 3-1 (25-23, 26-24, 22-25, 25-17) at the 2018 FIVB Women’s Volleyball Nations League in Macau.
Liu came up big when it mattered as the world 16th-ranked Thais had the Chinese second-guessing each other as they worked some acute angles.
The captain was ably supported by wing spiker Fang Duan (15 points) and middle blocker Hu Mingyuan (15 points) but time and again the Chinese just couldn’t seem to put the ball away, when opportunities were there for the taking.
Put that down to pressure and the passion with which the Thais play. They kept coming back at their more illustrious opponents and had Chatchu-On Moksri (13 points) and Ajcharaporn Kongyot (12 points) in particular working their socks off all night as they flew in from the wings.
A huge rally to end the fourth set, finished with a killer’s instinct by Ajcharaporn, provided arguably the highlight of the tournament so far.
But the Chinese squad is deep with talent – Tuesday night’s star Li Yingying was basically given a night off – and the likes of Liu have seen and done it all before.
The 28-year-old captain and wing spiker could be seen rallying her charges as the game played out in the fourth set and they rose to the occasion.
The victory snapped a 0-2 streak for the world number one ranked Chinese, who had lost to South Korea (3-0) last week in Ningbo and then to unfancied Poland (3-2) the previous night in Macao.
Chinese coach Lang has mixed and matched her squad, opting to give China’ new generation of players plenty of court time. But it is a move that has impacted on their normal free-flowing game.
Ahead of the Chinese in Macao now waits Serbia, the team they beat for gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and another team who have been slow to reach top form as the VNL has played out into its second week.