Korea banks on youth in tough test at World Cup

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Korea banks on youth in tough test at World Cup

After collecting two wins and one loss so far in the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup, Korea is hoping to cruise towards an Olympic place as it faces world-class teams.

Korea, ranked 10th in the world, got its second victory on Monday after beating Algeria 3-0 (25-8, 25-9, 25-19) at the Matsumoto City Gymnasium in Japan. Before meeting the North African nation, Korea defeated Peru 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-18) but lost to world No. 1 United States 3-0 (15-25, 22-25, 15-25).

The two top teams in the 12-team tournament will qualify for the Summer Olympics next year in Rio de Janeiro. Korea is currently sitting fourth behind Russia, Japan and the United States. The teams will resume their first-round action today when Korea takes on World No. 3 China and goes on to meet No. 8 Serbia on Thursday.

In the first round of the tournament, each team plays against all the teams in the same group. Korea is currently in Group B with the United States, Peru, Algeria, China and Serbia. For the second round, Korea will have to play against the teams in Group A, which includes Japan, Russia, Argentina, Kenya, Cuba and Dominican Republic.

Before the tournament started, coach Lee Jung-chul said Korea’s goal is to finish sixth. He said although there are injured players, he wants to achieve a good result with young players.

For this World Cup, the average age of the 12-woman squad is 23.8 years, and Lee has been trying to test young setters for this event. While veterans like Lee Hyo-hee and Kim Sa-nee are out, Korea have called up 18-year-old Lee Da-yeong and 22-year-old Cho Song-hwa to replace them.

For Korea, the key point is to get the young setters and attackers to have cohesion and keep in step in their plays.

“We will work hard for young setters to get in plays with Kim Yeon-koung, while other attackers like Lee Jae-yeong and Kim Hee-jin can score regularly,” coach Lee said after the match against Algeria on Monday. “Two teams [China and Serbia] are really strong. In order to face them, we need quick attacking patterns and a solid defense.”

Kim Yeon-koung, 27, is the team captain, known for her attacking abilities in Europe with Turkey’s Fenerbahce. But as she hasn’t had enough time to play with Lee Da-yeong and Cho Song-hwa in the national team, the 5-foot 6-inch spiker has so far scored only 24 points in the last three World Cup matches.

For the game against China, Korea has only 13 wins and 70 losses. The team’s most recent victory came in the Incheon Asian Games last year, where Korea beat China and claimed the gold medal for the first time in 20 years.

However, the Chinese team at the Asian Games did not comprise its top players. For this tournament, China, considered the competition’s top contender, has formed the team with their best players who beat Serbia and Algeria.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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