Suntory Sunbirds from Japan, Shahdab Yazd of Iran and Korean Air Jumbos Pro-Volleyball Club from South Korea were all victorious yesterday on the opening day of the 2023 Asian Men’s Club Volleyball Championship.
The continental giants are billed as the favourites to battle for the coveted title in the 16-nation tournament, and they all lived up to expectations, winning their respective assignments in straight sets at Isa Sports City.
Home side Al Ahli followed suit but needed five sets to topple Jakarta Bhayangkara Presisi from Indonesia.
Other winners on day one were Gulf sides Kuwait Sporting Club of Kuwait and Police Sports Team from Qatar, as well as Taichung Bank from Chinese-Taipei and Khaypil Sports Club from Yemen.
Attending yesterday’s games were Bahrain Olympic Committee (BOC) vice-president Shaikh Isa bin Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Bahrain Volleyball Association (BVA) president Shaikh Ali bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, BOC secretary general Faris Al Kooheji, and other high-ranking officials from the BVA and Asian Volleyball Confederation.
Action continues today with the second day of play in the preliminary round. The first games are scheduled for 11.30am and the programme will continue into the evening, with the concluding fixtures slated to begin no earlier than 7pm.
All are invited to attend and entrance is free of charge.
Suntory Sunbirds, runners-up last year, outclassed Diamond Food Fine Chef-Air Force from Thailand 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-19) in their Pool C encounter.
Former Olympic gold-medallist and multi-titled international volleyball star Dmitry Muserskiy from Russia towered over his opponents to finish with 20 points. Cuban teammate Alain Junior de Armas added 18 markers, while Kenya Fujinaka scored 11 for the Sunbirds.
Brazilian Evandro Dias De Souza was the top scorer for the Thais with 11.
“Today’s match was a great start for us,” said de Armas after the game. “We had some problems in serve, blocking and in transition, but in the days ahead we will do our best in this tournament.
“The main reason we are here is to win. We will do our best to go for first place.”
Shahdab Yazd cruised against South Gas Sports Club of Iraq 3-0 (25-22, 25-14, 25-18) in Pool B.
Amir Ghafour finished with 15 points to lead the Iranians as they look to follow in the footsteps of their countrymen from Paykan Tehran, who were the champions in last year’s event.
Korean Air Jumbos were just as dominant in their game against Canberra Heat from Australia. They posted an impressive 3-0 (25-11, 25-21, 25-12) result for a flying start in Pool A.
Donghyeok Im led his team with 13 points, while Jun Lee contributed 12 markers. Teammate Jiwe Jin commented: “It was our first game since arriving in Bahrain, and it was not easy for us after a long flight. We tried to fight for the win, and a good result came our way.
“This is a really difficult group for us with all strong teams. We will try our best to enjoy the volleyball and to play stronger and improve; that’s our goal.”
The Koreans next face off with hosts Ahli in their second Pool A outing scheduled for today at 7pm.
Ahli fell behind twice against Jakarta Bhayangkara Presisi in their head-to-head, but the Bahrainis showed their resolve and rallied to the all-important 3-2 (26-28, 25-23, 20-25, 25-18, 15-6) victory.
Mohammed Anan finished with a team-high 18 points, while Mohammed Yaqoob added 15 and Brazilian Gabriel Candido contributed 13.
“When I came into the game, I tried to do something, push our guys and inject some energy,” said Candido.
“This win was important for us today, but this is finished and tomorrow we will need more concentration. Korea have good blocking and good attacking. It will not be easy but we will be prepared for this.”
Nasser Anan praised Ahli’s fans who packed the arena to support their team, giving them an extra boost in their come-from-behind win. “The fans were number one,” he said. “We are playing in Bahrain, we are at home. The fans gave us more strength, and after this win, we are even more encouraged to do our best.”
In Pool D, Kuwait Sporting Club were 3-1 (25-17, 23-25, 25-22, 25-23) winners against Aspiring Volleyball Team from Hong Kong.
Also in the same pool, Police Sports Team battled past Atyrau VC of Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-19, 25-22, 22-25, 25-23). Turkish player Efe Bayram and Estonian Oliver Venno combined for 34 of the Qataris’ points, with Bayram spearheading their side with 18. Nigerian John Chibo chipped in with 13 points for Police.
Vitaliy Vorivodin was the leading scorer for the Kazakhs with 20 points, while Belarusian Artur Udris contributed 15 in the loss.
Taichung Bank swept past Kam Air VC of Afghanistan 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-14) in another Pool B game. Chang Yu-Sheng top scored for the victors with 15 points, while Tseng Hsiang-Ming added 11. Wardak Sabawoon scored seven to pace Kam Air, all in attack.
Taichung Bank head coach Moro Branislav was pleased with his team’s performance to begin the competition. He commented: “It was very good for the first match for our young team; it’s a good result, 3-0. Every competition is very difficult at the start.
In Pool C, Khaypil Sports Club needed to go the maximum to defeat Bayankhongor Crownd Geo VC of Mongolia in a see-saw encounter. The Yemenis needed to claw back from a set down twice in the contest and were on the brink of defeat in the fourth, but then pulled off an impressive comeback to overcome their rivals 3-2 (28-30, 25-17, 20-25, 29-27, 17-15).
Mohmed Elhossiny was the star for the winners, finishing with an impressive 35 points, while teammate Gamal Khairalah scored 29.