Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, June 7, 2018 - A superb all-round performance from Zehra Gunes overwhelmed Korea and ensured a powerful Turkey remained on track to reach the FIVB Volleyball Nations League's final phase.
Gunes fuelled her team early and was terrific in all areas as she led Turkey to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-23) victory over Korea on Thursday. She was well supported by wing spiker Meliha Ismailoglu and opposite spiker Meryem Boz as Turkey completed an undefeated phase four to now boast an impressive 9-3 overall record.
Conversely, Korea lost in straight sets for the second straight match to now be a shaky 5-7 but captain Kim Yeon Koung rediscovered her best and she was aided by another strong effort from Jaeyeong Lee.
It is Turkey's fourth straight victory over a slumping Korea but, more importantly, they produced a far more focused performance after somewhat erratic efforts previously in phase four.
Turkey started superbly with a cross court put away from Boz, Turkey's leading scorer in the VNL but who had a quiet game against Thailand on Wednesday. Undoing her good work, Boz then served into the net in a continuation of Turkey's misfiring radar that tarnished their win over the hosts.
It was a tight battle early with the high flying Kim impressing as she attempted to rebound from a sub-par effort in Korea's embarrassing loss to Japan on Wednesday. Turkey's superior height was causing havoc at the net as an error-strewn Korea gifted free points to find themselves in an early five-point hole.
As evidenced by their lofty ranking of fourth on the overall table, Turkey looked the superior team testament to their high-octane game but flashes of brilliance from Kim, including one notable deft tap, kept Korea in the contest. Despite the occasional misfire, Turkey's firepower was on full display with Seyma Ercan dominating in the air, while Gunes and Cansu Ozbay were hard to pass at the net.
Korea tried gamely to stay afloat with Jaeyeong tapping into her bag of tricks to astoundingly put away an angled tap but Turkey had all the answers with Gunes' stunning all-round game highlighted by strong serving. Turkey claimed the first set in 24 minutes but Korea hit back hard in the second stanza and took an early lead - their first advantage of the match.
Soon enough, Boz and Ismailoglu reasserted their dominance to overwhelm Korea as Turkey enjoyed a healthy 8-5 edge at the first technical timeout. Through gritty defence, led by middle blocker Kim Su Ji, Korea kept within striking distance but were constantly thwarted by the athletic Gunes who continued her stellar performance.
The stanza was following a similar pattern to the first set with Korea gamely fighting but unable to cope with the heavy artillery - most notably when Kim was whacked in the face by a sizzling blow that had the Korean captain momentarily dazed. Eda Edrem Dundar, the leading blocker for Turkey, was proving hard to breach at the net and she made clutch plays to fuel her team to a two-set lead and stranglehold over the contest.
Turkey had consecutive third set stutters previously and were keen to not waver in their concentration as Gunes started the stanza with an emphatic spike. But, true to form, Turkey started to misfire and Korea took full advantage to open up a three-point lead to be in control of the contest for the first time in the match.
With both teams knowing the stakes amid this crucial juncture, the standard lifted highlighted by a stunning 29-second rally that was marked by desperation and ultimately won by Turkey to cut the margin to two points. However, as can be their flaw, Turkey's game suddenly was mired by errors to infuriate coach Giovanni Guidetti who unleashed on his team during a timeout as he implored them to stop gifting away points.
Playing with purpose, Korea went about their business to take a five-point lead but that advantage quickly evaporated through cunning serving from Erdem as Turkey rattled off six straight points to nudge ahead. It was a tense stretch but Hande Baladin, who starred off the bench against Thailand, made her presence felt with several timely spikes as a relieved Turkey eventually wrapped it up to complete a perfect run in the fourth phase.
In phase five action next week, Turkey plays the Netherlands, Germany and China in Stuttgart, while Korea travels to Santa Fe where they will be pitted against hosts Argentina, USA and Serbia.