The South-East Asian Games came alive in a big way with a men's volleyball match for the ages. In a thrilling, nail-biting encounter played in front of a packed house cheering wildly for the home team, Philippines defeated the gold medal winners in last four SEA Games, Thailand, 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15 to make the final for the first time in 42 years.
As the scoreline suggests, the first two games were won in a clear cut manner by either team. The third game was close but the Thai side managed to snatch it. This is when the match got exciting. In the fourth set, Thailand had three match points at 24-21. The match looked over for the home team and the winners of last four golds seemed to be heading towards a fifth.
But then, the local favourites decided to rally and fight with all their might. A shot by Bryan Bagunas down the line saved the first match point for Philippines. The second match point was saved courtesy a block from Kim Nino Malabunga. Then, the home side levelled up the score.
This was followed by another point for the Philippinos as they went ahead 25-24 and had a set point. Initially, the Thais saved it but eventually, a shot from their side went long to take the game into a decider.
The fifth set saw both teams progressing neck-and-neck. The match stood at 13-12 in favour of Philippines when Thailand took a timeout. Amorntep Konhan then tied the score at 13-all. Following this, Thailand went ahead to gain their fourth match point of the contest at 14-13. But at this crucial juncture, Konhan committed a massive service error that brought the game back level.
But he corrected his mistake by earning the next point and giving his team the fifth opportunity to book their berth in final. Malabunga now stepped up to level the scores and save his team. At 15-all, Bagunas got a go-ahead block to earn his team their first match point. A time-out was taken by Thailand as the entire nation held its breath.
When the match re-started, a rally resulted in a spike from Philippines' side which went out off the arm of a Thai player to give the home team their much-cherished shot at gold in SEA Games. The scenes at the stadium were exhilarating as the crowd and the players lost themselves in utter joy. The victorious team will now play Indonesia on December 10 for the gold medal.