India served, received, dug, blocked and spiked well above its weight on paper to shock a much higher ranked South Korea in an Asian Games men’s volleyball Pool C game on Wednesday. This was India’s second successive win and moved it to top of the pool, guaranteeing a spot in the next round.
Coming into the game, India had lost its last five matches against the South Koreans. Korea has a world ranking of 27 and is the fourth-best nation in the continent, while India is ranked 73rd in the world and 19th in Asia, behind neighbouring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
India nosed ahead in the nervy contest after dropping the first set, but almost blew a 2-1 lead and two match points in the fifth set. Korea edged ahead to a match point, but India held its nerve to save the match point before a block at the net gave it a thrilling 25-27, 29-27, 25-22, 20-25, 17-15 victory at Linping Sports Centre Gymnasium in Hangzhou.
Against the odds, India ran Korea close in a see-saw opening set, but lost 27-25 after an error from Ashwal Rai, who mistimed his jump on a spike.
In the next two sets, India gathered steam and ran the proceedings by picking the right areas to attack. Korea was left playing catch-up against the rampaging Indians.
While the Indians wildly celebrated each point going its way, they remained calm when Korea added to its tally. Led by skipper Vinit Kumar, India fought back in the second set to rattle the Koreans. An Ashwal service error at 18-22, however, allowed Korea back into the game, and it quickly wiped out the deficit and levelled the scores at 23-23.
Asian Games 2023, September 20 HIGHLIGHTS: India stuns South Korea in men’s volleyball; India’s Men’s Fours team in rowing final
Coach Jaideep Sarkar called for a timeout to halt the momentum and even when Korea had two set points, India clawed its way back and Ashwal clinched the set with a smash.
In the third set, Ashwal seemed omnipresent. The 6’7” mid-blocker served with precision, made big blocks at the net, and came up with spike points. Substitute LM Manoj nonchalantly notched up four points as India went ahead 20-14. A jittery spell from the Indians allowed Korea back into the set, but the points cushion allowed India to play the waiting game, and a Korean service error handing it the set 25-22.
INDIA VS KOREA IN NUMBERS
Head to Head (last five matches)
Asian Games medals
With their backs to the wall, Korean attackers Subong Heo, Gyeongbok Na and Kwangin Jeon came up big in the fourth set with the attacking points. The Koreans also blocked and retrieved the ball effectively, stifling Vinit, who was able to convert only one of his eight attacking efforts. South Korea won the fourth game 25-20 to set up a tantalising final set.
Ashwal later said when they regrouped on the sidelines, they decided to forget the previous four sets to help reinvigorate themselves. “We approached the fifth set like it was a fresh game and that made all the difference for us,” said the 30-year-old.
This made a world of difference close to a match point. Korea had a successful review when the ball kissed the edge of the line but another review followed in the next point more in hope than having a real case for a net touch. At 14-12, India again let the match slip and went behind at 15-14, but Manoj came up with two back-to-back points to set up a match point for India. Erin Varghese effected an all-important block to seal the win.
“Korea only played a power game through the match. Jump and attack. Dead block and score. Boom, boom! If it comes off, it’s good, if not, it’s going against you. We played a cunning game against them,” said coach Sarkar.
India defeated Cambodia on Tuesday to begin its campaign in Hangzhou. India’s opponent in the top 12 will be decided after the final round of pool fixtures on Thursday.
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