Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, June 5, 2018 - Kim Yeon Koung showcased her impeccable leadership skills to ensure Korea overcame a tenacious Thailand on Tuesday and end a four-game losing streak in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
The inspirational Korean captain was the standout performer in her team's 3-1 (25-16, 25-18, 20-25, 26-24) victory over hosts Thailand, who continue to sit near the foot of the overall rankings but competed hard to provide plenty of cheer for their passionate fans.
Kim made several clutch plays when her team appeared to be melting under the pressure deep in the fourth set after crumbling during a lacklustre third stanza. She was ably supported by Heejin Kim, while middle blocker Kim Su Ji was sensational late in the fourth set.
Thailand, who were sitting a lowly 14th coming into the contest, were led by wing spiker Onuma Sittirak and captain Pluemjit Thinkaow in an improved performance after coming off a winless phase three in Bangkok.
Korea, who are now 5-5, struggled in the third phase but were favoured having dominated Thailand at the major world level in recent times.
From the get-go the match was a high-octane affair with Kim hammering a spike to immediately silence the boisterous crowd as Korea - through strong serve - skipped ahead to a quick 8-4 lead before the first technical timeout.
Thinkaow tried to fuel her team with a high-flying spike which brought spectators to their feet, but Korea had the answers with strong blocking at the net repelling a slew of attacks. A high-flying Heejin was deadly around the net and showed exquisite touch as a confident Korea looked the far more organised team.
Tenacious defending from Nootsara Tomkom complemented by an aggressive Malika Kanthong kept the hosts in the contest much to the delight of their beloved fans but Korea held their nerve with Kim producing some timely clutch play to ensure her team claimed a decisive first set.
In a bold attempt to get into the contest, Thailand started the second set determined to fight for every point but Korea countered with stellar serving, while Heejin continued to showcase precision with her spikes.
In a mirror image of the first set, Korea skipped out to an early four-point buffer with Kim's aerial pyrotechnics proving mesmerising and ensuring the stadium remained eerily silent.
There were some memorable rallies as the standard rose during a pulsating stretch highlighted by one notable exchange capped off by brilliance from Jin Yang Hyo as Korea seemed a level above their mismatched opponents.
Even though they lacked their opponent's polish, Thailand conjured points through sheer effort as veteran wing spiker Onuma found her range to ensure a more than competitive spectacle. Cunning serving from Hattaya Bamrungsuk reduced the margin to one point as bedlam erupted inside the stadium as the faithful could sense Thailand's surging momentum.
However, Lee Daeyong, Kim and Heejin restored Korea's order through timely spikes as the visitors eventually claimed the second set and a stranglehold of the contest.
In a bid to finish the match and not let the crowd regain its spark, Korea started the third set strongly with Su Ji dominating at the net as the result appeared to be a formality. However, Korea were unable to shake off their pesky rivals as the roof almost came off the stadium when Thailand won a thrilling 42-second rally to cut the deficit to 12-10 as the match tightened.
For the first time in the match, Korea was threatened deep in the set as scores were deadlocked on several occasions before a sizzling serve from Hattaya gave Thailand the lead as the crowd erupted in delight.
The play rose a level and peaked during a memorable 38-second rally that was punctuated by a booming block from Jin Yang but Thailand would not be denied highlighted by desperation from a diving Wilavan Apinyapong as the hosts astoundingly won seven straight points to claim the third set.
The absorbing contest continued into the fourth set with the teams trading points and marked by Korea desperate to regain the initiative in a determined bid for the match to not go into a deciding stanza.
A blistering spike from Onuma locked the scores at 13 apiece and shortly after Thailand took the lead as Korea appeared to be wilting amid the swirling anticipation permeating through the crowd.
Much like the backend of the third set, Korea's confidence was shaken as they made several errors to fall in a three-point hole before successive Kim spikes reduced the deficit to 20-19. Another Kim spike gave Korea their fourth straight point and, more importantly, the lead but Thailand mounted another fightback to earn set point at 25-24.
However, Korea held their nerve - which had been numerously tested - and a resounding block from Jin Yang ended the contest sparking scenes of jubilation from the Korean players contrasted by despair from Thailand and their loyal home fans.
Thailand will be looking to break their home drought when they play the formidable Turkey on Wednesday, while Korea faces Japan.