THE title chase has come down to the final four teams in the 2023 Asian Men’s Club Volleyball Championship, being hosted by Bahrain.
Japan’s Suntory Sunbirds, Iran’s Shahdab Yazd, Qatar’s Police Sports Team and Indonesia’s Jakarta Bhayangkara Presisi all punched their tickets to the tournament’s last four yesterday, on the first of two days of quarter-final pool play at Isa Sports City in Riffa.
The Sunbirds, Shahdab and Police all maintained their undefeated records so far in the competition, while Bhayangkara continued their impressive resurgence following an opening night loss.
With the semis participants now confirmed, their head-to-head match-ups are left to be determined today when action wraps up in both the quarters and placement pools.
In the knockout semi-finals, the top team from Pool E will face the runners-up of Pool F, while the Pool E second-placers will lock horns with the Pool F winners.
In yesterday’s consolation Pools G and H, which will determine the tournament’s final rankings from ninth through 16th, victorious were Bahrain’s Al Ahli, Australia’s Canberra Heat, Taichung Bank from Chinese Taipei, and Atyrau VC from Kazakhstan.
The Sunbirds were flying high in their 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-19) Pool E victory over Korean Air Jumbos Pro-Volleyball Club, thus securing their final four berth.
Russian superstar Dmitriy Muserskiy had 16 points to spearhead the Sunbirds, while Cuban Alain Junior de Armas added 10 points and Kenji Sato had nine. Donghyeok Im was the leading scorer for Jumbos with 16 in the loss, while Hanyong Jeong and Jiwe Jin finished with seven apiece.
The Sunbirds now face off with Bhayangkara today at 2pm to determine the Pool E winners.
“I’m glad that we won this match; I’ve never played against Korea in my life and that was surprising for me,” said Muserskiy. “I’m really glad we won 3-0 as we could save some energy for tomorrow’s match.
“Of course, our goal is to win the championship. We will show our best volleyball and if we can reach the final, even win, that will be very nice for us.”
The Indonesians claimed their own 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-14) victory against Bayankhongor Crownd Geo VC of Mongolia, whose semi-final hopes have also been dashed.
Farhan Halim was once again their best performer with 20 points, while Ugandan Daudi Okello had 13 and Mohammadjav Manavinezhad contributed 12. Batsuuri Battur and Bayarsaikhan Batsukh had seven each to lead the Mongolians.
Bhayangkara skipper Nizar Julfikare Munawar said: “This match was good for us. The true games are now in the semi-finals and tomorrow against Suntory.
“We played well but have made mistakes. Tomorrow, we will push more to be best prepared for the semi-finals.”
In Pool F, Shahdab were convincing 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-23) winners against Kuwait Sports Club.
Shahrooz Homayonfarmanesh finished with 12 points as the Iranians’ leading scorer, while Amir Ghafour added eight and Meisam Salehi finished with seven points. Saber Kazemi, who is from Iran, led Kuwait with 18 markers, while Abdullah Mansour had eight.
The Iranians next take on Qatar’s Police for the top place in their group, with both already through to the last four.
The Qataris were also triumphant in straight sets despite tough fight from South Gas Sports Club of Iraq, Police were able to come away with a 25-21, 25-17, 25-23 result.
Estonian Oliver Venno had 20 points to spearhead the Qataris, while Efe Bayram from Turkey added 15. Bulgarian Todo Skirmov paced the Iraqis with 16 points, while Hussain Nameer Kamoona chipped in with 12 in the loss.
In the consolation groups, home side Ahli overcame a tough challenge from Yemen’s Khaypil Sports Club in their Pool G encounter. The Bahrainis battled back from a deficit in an extended second set and then were dominant in the third to come away with the 3-0 (25-20, 37-35, 25-17) scoreline.
Brazilian Gabriel Candido had 18 points to pace the Bahrainis, while Hasan Ebrahim added 10 and Mohammed Yaqoob eight. Gamal Khairalah finished with 18 to top the Yemenis’ scoresheet, as Egyptians Amr Elawwad and Essa Mohmed Elhossiny finished with 12 apiece.
Ahli assistant coach Rami Gritli commented: “We started well, but in the second set we needed more focus, that’s why the score went up. In the last set, we concentrated better and were able to finish the match 3-0.
“Now we need to focus even more for the remaining games, in order to be ninth place.”
Also in consolation Pool G, Australia’s Canberra Heat claimed their first victory of the tournament following a 3-1 (28-26, 21-25, 25-23, 25-22) decision against Diamond Food Fine Chef-Air Force of Thailand.
Matthew Aubrey paced the Aussies with 25 points, while Trent O’Dea chipped in with 15 and Adam Bradbury 13. Brazilian Evandro Dias de Souza had a game-high 31 for the Thais while Chaiwat Thungkham scored 16 in the losing effort.
In consolation Pool H, Taichung Bank from Chinese Taipei cruised past Aspiring Volleyball Team from Hong Kong, China 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-14).
Rayshon Nehemiah Jackman top scored with 14 points while Yu-Sheng Chang added 14 and Po-Ting Ssung had 10 for Taichung. Hin Shing Tang and Chi Leung Poon finished with six points apiece to lead Aspiring.
In the other Pool H fixture, Atyrau defeated Kam Air of Afghanistan 3-1 (25-16, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19).
Boris Kempa had a game-high 25 markers, while Aibat Netalin contributed 15. Sabawoon Mohammad Wardak scored 13 to pace the Yemenis while Abdul Malik Mamoozai finished with 11.