The South Korean men’s national volleyball team is back in action.
The team finished third and fourth at last year’s FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup and the 2022 Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Cup, respectively. More competitions are on the horizon for 2023. The ultimate goal for the team this year is to perform well at the Hangzhou Asian Games, but there are many competitions to prepare for before then. First up is the 4th AVC Men’s Challenger. It will take place in Taipei, Taiwan, from July 8 to 15.
What is the AVC Challenger?
It may be a little unfamiliar to fans in Korea. This is the third edition of the tournament (the fourth edition was canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020). The inaugural event was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2018. It’s a biennial event. In 2022, the second edition will be held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan.안전놀이터
Participation in the AVC is open to nations that do not qualify for the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) and the Volleyball Challenger Cup organized by the FIVB. This is why South Korea hasn’t been interested in the tournament.
But now that the country hasn’t qualified for the VNL and the Volleyball Challenger Cup, it’s time to start from the bottom and compete in the AVC Challenger.
This time, 17 countries are participating. In the first edition, there were eight nations, and in the second edition, only four nations battled for the title, but this time is different. The competition is bigger. The nature of the competition is completely different. Twelve countries, including South Korea, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, and more, have applied to compete in the AVC Challenger for the first time.
There was also good news for the Korean men’s national team. The biennial AVC Challenger will be held annually starting this year. In order to be included in the ranking points system required by the FIVB, the tournament must be held annually. As a result, the AVC has changed the way it organizes its competitions and this is the beginning. Although the AVC is worth less in ranking points than the Olympics, World Championships, and VNL, it is still a chance to accumulate points gradually.
Currently, the Korean men’s volleyball team is ranked 34th in the FIVB rankings. As a result, they don’t even qualify for the final qualifying round for the 2024 Paris Olympics. In this situation, the team’s first goal is to reach the top 24 in order to qualify for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The team will have to compete in many international events to accumulate enough ranking points to reach the 24th spot and keep their hopes alive for the Olympic qualifiers. This is an important opportunity for South Korea, which is desperate for every single ranking point.
The winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2023 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup in July. The national team tried to qualify for the VNL last year when it hosted the tournament in Seoul, but came up short. The best-case scenario is to win the AVC Challenger and the Volleyball Challenger Cup to punch their ticket to the 2024 VNL, but first they need to finish the most immediate task at hand.
Younger average age
On May 1, the Korean Volleyball Association released the 16-man roster for the AVC Challenger. Setters Hwang Taek-ui (KB Insurance) and Kim Myung-kwan (Hyundai Capital) were selected. The liberos are Park Kyu-min (Hyundai Capital) and Oh Jae-sung (Woori Card), while the middle blockers are Kim Kyu-min and Kim Min-jae (Korean Air), Kim Jun-woo (Samsung Fire), and Park Joon-hyuk and Lee Sang-hyun (Woori Card). Lim Dong-hyuk (Korean Air) and Heo Soo-bong (Hyundai Capital) were selected for the apogee. Outside hitters were Na Kyung-bok and Hwang Kyung-min (KB Insurance), Kim Ji-han (Woori Card), Lim Sung-jin (KEPCO), and Jeong Jung-yong (Korean Air). Jung Jeong-seok (Korean Air), who was suspended by the Korean Volleyball Association last year for one year for strengthening training for representative players, also joined the team.
When the roster was first announced, many fans were surprised. Longtime national team leaders Han, Choi Min-ho, Shin Young-seok, and Kwak Seung-seok were dropped in favor of younger players such as Kim Ji-han, Jeong Jung-yong, Kim Jun-woo, and Kim Min-jae. The players were surprised to see such a drastic generational change. “When I saw the roster for the first time, I was surprised to see that many of my older brothers were missing and most of the players were younger,” said Heo Soo-bong. “At first glance, I was surprised to see so many young players, including myself, on the roster,” said Kim Min-jae, who made his first national team.
But Korea can’t rely on veterans in their 30s forever. The team’s hopes for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles will depend on younger players gaining experience and growing as they go. This is why Lim decided to make a drastic generational change. “A lot of young players were selected, but they all showed good performances in the V-League. I think we need to work hard and make sure our older brothers’ shoes are not left untouched,” he said.
For men’s national team head coach Lim Do-heon, the reason for the drastic generational change was, in a word, experience. “We need to give younger players more opportunities,” he said. We’ve seen young players like Heo Soo-bong, Lim Dong-hyuk, and Park Kyung-min grow as they experience international tournaments. Young players grow quickly. They gained confidence in the international tournaments and played more in the national team,” he explained.
What are the chances of winning?
Of the 17 teams competing in the AVC Challenger, South Korea has the highest FIVB ranking. They are followed by Australia (39th). If you look at the world rankings, we have to win. It’s a tournament where you have to win, so you have to protect your pride and look higher, but as with all sports, you never know. You can’t let your guard down. South Korea is in Group B alongside Thailand and Saudi Arabia. The group looks easy, but Thailand is a tricky opponent.
Korea has bitter memories of losing to Thailand in the 2022 AVC Cup qualifiers in Thailand last August. Moreover, Park Ki-won was recently named the head coach of the Thai men’s national team. With an opponent who knows Korean volleyball better than anyone, it’s expected to be a tougher match than last year.
Head coach Lim Do-heon is not letting his guard down either. “I’ve been watching the Southeast Asian Games (SEA) and Thailand is better than last year’s AVC Cup. The physicality and