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(LEAD) (Olympics) Nothing to lose, everything to gain, as S. Korea takes on Brazil in volleyball semis

Sports 19:43 August 05, 2021

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By Yoo Jee-ho

TOKYO, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will try to write a new chapter in its underdog story, as it takes on world No. 2 Brazil in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympic women's volleyball tournament Friday.

After knocking down world No. 4 Turkey in the quarterfinals and climbing two spots to reach No. 11 in the rankings, South Korea is now playing with house money.

Captain Kim Yeon-koung and Co. have guaranteed themselves at least two more matches in Tokyo. Beat the second-ranked Brazil in the semifinals, starting at 9 p.m. at Ariake Arena, and South Korea will be in the gold medal match Sunday, the final day of the Olympics.

Kim Yeon-koung of South Korea (L) and her teammates celebrate a point against Turkey in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympic women's volleyball tournament at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on Aug. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)

A loss to Brazil will send South Korea to the bronze medal match, also scheduled for Sunday.

Either way, the team that already boasts a massive following back home will reach new heights in its nationwide popularity at the end of this Cinderella run, as it will enjoy the spotlight hours before the closing ceremony.

Not that there should have been much doubt before, but there should now be zero dispute that Kim Yeon-koung is the greatest volleyball player ever to come out of South Korea. As captain, Kim has been both the spiritual leader in the locker room and the team's best player on the court. She is second overall in this year's competition with 115 points.

But in the preliminary match against the same Brazil team on July 25, Kim was limited to 12 points in a straight-set loss. Brazil punished South Korea with a three-pronged attack by Fernanda Rodrigues, Gabriela Guimaraes and Tandara Caixeta. Brazil has four of the top 10 scorers in Tokyo.

Kim Hee-jin of South Korea (C) hits a spike against Brazil during the teams' Pool A match of the Tokyo Olympic women's volleyball tournament at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on July 25, 2021. (Yonhap)

Kim will need some help. Fellow outside hitter Park Jeong-ah has scored some huge points throughout the tournament to earn the moniker "Clutch Park."

Kim played at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, too. She was the tournament MVP and leading scorer in London nine years ago, but despite her heroics, South Korea finished out of medals. It lost to Japan in straight sets in the bronze medal match, and Kim said Thursday the narrow miss still gnaws at her.

"We went as far as the semifinals in 2012 and still didn't get a medal," Kim said after Thursday's practice. "We know that an opportunity like this doesn't come around very often. We've all talked about trying to win tomorrow."

At 33 and likely competing at her last Olympics, Kim said she's approaching Friday's match like her last.

"I told my teammates that we should put everything on the line for tomorrow's match," she said. "Our mindset is that there's no next match. We'll only think about tomorrow only and nothing beyond that."

Coach Stefano Lavarini has worked some magic with his substitutions, with reserves such as Park Eun-jin and An Hye-jin contributing key points with serves.

Lavarini has emphasized the importance of sharp serves against physical opponents, such as Brazil, knowing that South Korean players can't match those teams in strength.

Brazil is undefeated in Tokyo, having run the table in the preliminary round and knocked off the Russian Olympic Committee in the quarterfinals.

And the pressure will be on Brazil, as the heavy favorite, to quiet the upstart South Korean team with nothing to lose.

South Korea has yet to lose a five-set match in Tokyo.

Kim Hee-jin of South Korea (R) hits a spike against Brazil during the teams' Pool A match of the Tokyo Olympic women's volleyball tournament at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on July 25, 2021. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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