Korea defeats Turkey to reach volleyball semifinals
Korea defeated world No. 4 Turkey in the women's volleyball quarterfinals on Wednesday, advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 2012.
Turkey presented a formidable opponent in the quarterfinal. The last time the two sides met — in June this year at the Volleyball Nations League — Turkey took an easy 3-1 win to reach the semifinals and finish third, while Korea finished second from last.
This time, Korea flexed some giant-killing muscles, taking down the higher-ranked team in a grueling five set match that lasted two hours and 7 minutes.
After conceding the first set, it was the second set that gave Korea the momentum they needed for the win. Korea outscored Turkey by eight points and kept that lead until the very end, tying the score 1-1.
The 38-minute long third set was tense, with the two teams at deuce three times before Park Jeong-ah finally broke through to score the winning point to take the score to 2-1. Park has proven clutch throughout the tournament, scoring the winning point against Japan last week.
In the fourth set, Korea seemed to have lost some steam. Kim Yeon-koung took a second yellow card for protesting and Turkey quickly pulled ahead by six points. Unable to turn things around, Turkey took an easy win to level the game at 2-2.
The fifth set was another nail-biter. Korea were back on the offensive, pulling ahead as they neared that all-important 15th point. Turkey rallied and caught up to tie the game at 13-13, but Korea broke through again, adding two points to take the set 15-13 and the game 3-2. Fittingly, it was Kim Yeon-koung that scored the final point to round off her total of 28 points, the most of the entire match.
The win is an important one for Korea, not just because it buys the team a ticket to the semifinals for the first time since London 2012, but also because it proves that the national team is finally getting back on its feet. Korea was humiliated at the Volleyball Nations League, losing nearly every game to cap off a difficult few months that saw two of the country's best players kicked off the team due to a bullying scandal.
For talismanic captain Kim Yeon-koung, generally considered the best player Korea has ever produced, Tokyo marks her third and last Olympics. The 33-year-old has had a glittering career, but lacks an Olympic medal. Korea finished fourth in London, losing to Japan in the bronze medal match, and fifth last in Rio, losing to the Netherlands.
In her last attempt at a medal, Kim has been giving it all she had, swooping in to save the team multiple times in the tournament. Earlier in the Olympics, Kim made history as the first player to record 30 or more points in an Olympic match four times.
"Kim Yeon-koung is one of the greatest players in the history of volleyball, maybe even the best, and for sure the best player that I've worked with," Korea's head coach Stefano Lavarini told KBS Sports ahead of the Tokyo Games. "For me, [she is] an impressive example of a leader, of a charismatic person. The way that everyone surrounds Kim, following her, it's amazing."
Kim Yeon-koung's job has been even harder as the team has struggled with injuries, with both Kim Hee-jin and Kim Su-ji out of commission. Yet despite that, Korea have defeated Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Japan and now Turkey at the Games so far. Korea has dropped two matches — to Brazil and Serbia — but has won every game that has gone to five sets.
The Korean women's volleyball team has only medaled once, taking bronze at the 1976 Games. In recent years things have been a lot less successful, dropping out in the semifinals in London and the quarterfinals in Rio. This year the team is hoping to go further.
Korea will face either Brazil or Russia in the semifinal on Friday at 1 p.m.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]