South Korea will open the Asian Games men's volleyball tournament in Hangzhou on Wednesday, launching a bid for the country's 15th consecutive medal at the continental event.
South Korea will begin Pool C action against India at Linping Sports Centre Gymnasium in Hangzhou at 7 p.m. Wednesday, or 8 p.m. the same evening in South Korea. South Korea will then play Cambodia on Thursday to wrap up the preliminary stage.
There are six groups in action, with Pools A to E each featuring three teams and Pool F made up of four teams.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout round, with the winners of Pools A and B earning byes to the quarterfinals, where they will play runners-up from Pools F and E, respectively. All the other teams will play in the round of 12.
Matches will be coming fast and furious: round of 12 on Friday, quarterfinals on Sunday, semifinals on Monday and the bronze medal match and the gold medal match both set for Tuesday.
South Korean men have reached the volleyball podium at every Asiad since 1966. South Korea won silver behind Iran in 2018, but the national team program has fallen on some hard times lately.
South Korea is ranked 27th in the world, the fourth-highest in Asia behind Japan (No. 5), Iran (No. 11) and Qatar (No. 17). The host country China checks in at No. 29 but is regarded as a better team than South Korea at the moment.
At this year's Asian Volleyball Challenger Cup in July, South Korea was upset by 73rd-ranked Bahrain in the semifinals en route to a third place finish, despite the absence of China and Japan. At the 2023 Asian Volleyball Championship last month, South Korea fell to China in the semifinals and ended up in fifth place.
Head coach Im Do-hun said this week he wants to use the Asian Games as a turning point for South Korean men's volleyball.
"Every player here knows how important this competition is for our program. I hope our hard work pays off here," Im said after a practice in Hangzhou on Monday. "Our goal is to win the gold medal. Our fans have been so supportive even when we weren't playing well, and we want to give back to them with strong performances and good results."
One of the key players in that quest for gold will be setter Han Sun-soo, who will play at his fourth career Asiad here at age 37.
"This is my last chance to try to win gold at the Asian Games. It's a great honor," said Han, who has won one silver and two bronze medals at his three previous appearances. "The ball is round. In the knockout phase, you're bound to see upsets. I hope we can surprise people."
Han is the reigning MVP in the domestic V-League and is regarded as the finest setter of his generation. But he was an unlikely pick for the Asian Games, given his recent injury history and the growing pressure around the national team to usher in a new generation of players.
But with South Korea seeking a measure of redemption after a string of disappointing results, coach Im turned to the trusted veteran for one more shot at glory.
"Han Sun-soo is a savvy setter. He's developing good chemistry with his teammates at a pretty impressive rate," the coach said. "We have a really balanced team of 12 talented players. Since we only have one day off on Saturday, it would help our team if all 12 players can contribute."
Han said he wants to close his chapter on the Asian Games with the elusive gold.
"I am so thankful to be wearing the national flag in my late 30s. I do my best in every match, but playing for the country means so much more. I really want to win the gold medal this time." (Yonhap)