DID Thailand deliberately lose a game to avoid playing host Philippines in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Asian Under-23 Women’s Volleyball Championship?
Suspicion of tanking surfaced on Tuesday after Thailand lost to China, 13-25, 10-25, 12-25 owing to the ease of the victory as well the absence of key Thai players during crucial stretches at the Philsports Arena.
The romp is surprising since Thailand, the top team in Southeast Asian country, easily beat Korea during the preliminaries while China needed five sets to dispose of the same team on Monday.
Owing to the loss, Thailand was relegated to No. 2 behind China in Pool F with a 2-1 win-loss card, meaning it will be facing the No. 3 squad - likely Iran - in Pool E in the knockout quarterfinal round.
Had it won against China, Thailand, as the Pool F top seed, will be in line for a match against the Philippines if the hosts dropped their final second-round match against Chinese Taipei on Tuesday night.
So did Thailand really "tank" to avoid meeeting the Philippines?
A reporter asked Thailand head coach Nataphon Srisamutnak why he elected to take out his top setter, Pornpun Guedpard, in the third set, he answered through an interpreter by saying, "We want to give (substitute the) experience."
Asked why he did so considering the match was for the top seeding in their group, the Thai coach's tone changed.
While he didn’t categorically state that they were trying to avoid a clash against the home team, Srisamutnak admitted it will be tough to face the Philippines in the quarters as they play backed by a home crowd.
“Philippines has many, many fans. Philippines is a good team,” said Srisamutnak.
While the Thais will be overwhelming favorites in a match against the Philippines, they have enough reasons not to want to meet the hosts.
Aside from the homecourt advantage, a match against the Thais will enable the Philippines to get a feel of how it is to play the Southeast Asian giants before they meet again in the SEA Games in June.
Also, the Philippines has a Thai coach in its fold in Anusorn 'Tai' Bundit, who is coach of Ateneo in the UAAP and a trainer in head coach Roger Gorayeb's staff.
The Thai coach also mentioned something during the interview, citing a certain No. 2 from the Philippines. That jersey number, of course, belonged to Alyssa Valdez, the star player of the Pinay spikers.
“Number 2. Number 2,” said Srisamutnak through the interpreter.