SEOUL, Aug. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea secured a place in the Asian women's volleyball Olympic qualifying tournament with a victory over Hong Kong at a continental competition on Monday.
South Korea defeated Hong Kong 3-0 (25-10, 25-14, 25-22) at the Asian Women's Volleyball Championship at Jamsil Arena in Seoul for its second consecutive victory in Pool A.
South Korea finished atop its group and will move on to the second round at this tournament while also advancing to January's Olympic qualifying event. The top two teams from each of the four groups here will earn the right to battle for one ticket to Tokyo at stake in the Olympic qualifiers.
South Korea defeated Iran 3-0 (25-17, 25-9, 25-14) on Sunday. Hong Kong and Iran will square off Tuesday, and the winner will finish second in Pool A and join South Korea in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
South Korea just missed out on direct qualification for the Olympics at the intercontinental competition earlier this month, when it blew a 2-0 lead against Russia in the final match.
Coached by Italian Stefano Lavarini, South Korea is ranked ninth in the world, and Hong Kong is 117th, the last possible place for all countries without any ranking points. The match ended up being as lopsided as could be anticipated given their ranking discrepancy.
South Korea opened the match with four straight points and built a 12-3 lead before captain Kim Yeon-koung, the team's best attacker, was lifted for a breather. Kim didn't play again in the match, and she didn't need to, as South Korea dominated Hong Kong to win the first set 25-10.
Hong Kong showed more fight in the second set, and the teams traded points until South Korea gave itself more breathing room at 11-7. From there, South Korea reeled off eight consecutive points to blow the set wide open. The host country looked a bit sloppy before wrapping up the second set 25-14.
Some shoddy play continued for South Korea in the third set. The home team built a 13-6 lead but couldn't put away Hong Kong, who closed it to 19-16. Lavarini called his first timeout with a 22-20 lead, urging his players to finish the job. South Korea then survived a late scare and closed out the set 25-22.
With the appearance in the Olympic qualifiers now guaranteed, South Korea will keep trying to work its new setter Yeum Hye-seon into the offense.
South Korea lost two regular setters, Lee Da-yeong and Ahn Hye-jin, to injuries before the intercontinental Olympic qualifiers earlier this month, and Lee Hyo-hee and Lee Na-yeon were summoned at the last minute.
And after that event, Lee Hyo-hee, soon to be 39 years old, pulled out of the Asian championship, citing fatigue. Yeum was named as a replacement on Aug. 8. With less than two weeks together, Yeum and the team's leading spikers have had some shaky moments in the first two matches at this tournament.
They've been able to get away with it so far because they've faced far inferior opponents. With Thailand and Japan, two Asian powers, on the horizon, South Korea will have to be sharper on the attack.
The second round action of the Asian championship will begin Thursday. The top two teams from Pool A and Pool C will be paired in Pool E, and the top two seeds from Pool B and Pool D will be grouped in Pool F.
Then the two best teams from Pool E and Pool F after round-robin action will move on to Saturday's semifinals. The third-place match and the final will take place on Sunday.
South Korea is hosting this biennial competition for the first time. The tournament was first held in 1975, and South Korea has never won it. The country has had seven runner-up finishes, most recently in 2015.
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