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China makes women's volleyball final after eight-year drought
Latest Updated by 2004-08-27 08:38:11

click to related specials: Olympic Games Athens 2004>>>

Wang LiNa (left) and Zhang Ping (right) celebrate after the victory over Cuba in Women's Volleyball semi-final.

The Chinese women's volleyball team outlasted a tough Cuban squad, advancing to the final with a five-set semifinal victory at the Athens Olympic Games on Aug.26th.

The victory put the Chinese into their first Olympic final berth in eight years since 1996, where they finished second behind Cuba.

In Athens, China also recorded its sixth win 25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 23-25 and 15-10 in the tournament, taking revenge from the 2-3 loss to Cuba in the preliminary round last Wednesday.

"We learned a lot from the defeat," said Chen Zhonghe, head coach of China, "And we tried to avoid the same mistakes we made at last clash."

"I think we made it," said Chen.

Following Thursday's win, China will face Russia to vie for the Olympic gold medal, who defeated Brazil with a tremendous 3-2 turnaround early on Thursday.

"Everyone wants to win, including us," said Feng Kun, captain of the Chinese team, "But Russia is a very strong team, they trounced Brazil today. We have to prepare very well to face Russia. They are on the upper-hand."

Yang Hao led the Chinese team with 23 points, Zhang Ping, Zhou Suhong and Wang Lina all added 15.

The two-hour-20 minute match featured two traditional volleyball powerhouses who traded leads in the opener from 2-2 to 12-12 before the Cubans went up 16-14 from two Chinese errors.

However, China ran off a 5-2 rally since then with Zhang Ping sealing the opener with an open spike, 25-22.

In the second set, the Cuban women, who have claimed all volleyball titles in last three Olympics, fell behind 10-5 as China scored three consecutive points from serving, who steadily pushed ahead for a 23-16 lead.

After Cuba launched a 4-0 run, Yang Hao scored her back-court attack and Liu Yanan stopped the Cuban attack over the net to win the second 25-20.

"This is an excellent game. China is a very very good team, perhaps the best teams in the world. They played really hard today. Their serves are strong in every set," said Cuba's head coach Lius Felipe Calderon Biet, "I think China succeed because they kept their rhythm in the match as in other competitions."

China got 4 points from serving in the second set while Cuba had none.

Yet, with cheers from the crowd and injured wing-striker Paz Nancy Carrillo from the bench who severely twisted her ankle early in the second set, the Cubans took a 6-3 lead in the third set.

They even blocked two spikes in a row from Chinese striker WangLina, and hurried to 12-6 with a 4-0 run and reached the set-point 24-17 by Fernandez Barros's blitz attack.

When China tried to save some of the seven set-points, Yang's attack was stopped by Liana Mesa Luaces and captain Yumilka Ruiz Luaces.

Cuba scored four points in block and two aces in the set, while China had one and none respectively.

"We played very good in the first two sets," said Chen, "But Cuba changed their tactics afterward. Their serving caused us much trouble in the following set, including third and fourth."

The fourth set witnessed a series of fundamental errors from the Chinese side, including sending digs straight back over the net, to allow Cuba power to an early lead 4-1.

After China soon clawed its way back with a 4-0 run to 6-6 and 21-21, Cuba scored two straight points and Carrillo's kill made Cuba reach the set-point before its captain Ruiz leveled the game 2-2 with her high-flying attack over Chinese Yang.

In the tie-break fifth set, China again took an early lead, this time at 6-1 and 8-2. Two wing-strikers Yang and Wang combined to score the last five points for China who eventually downed the Cubans with contributions from every member of the team.

"I told Feng Kun, our setter, to defend Ruiz, who was unstoppable during the first four sets tonight, before the final set," said Chen, "I think Feng successfully finished her job."

Feng, who scored five points, blocked Ruiz twice in the fifth set to secure China's 15-10 win.

Ruiz had 18 points in hand, while Yaima Ortiz Charro added 13.

Cuba will strive for the bronze medal against Brazil, the top-seeded favorite before the Olympics, on the  night of 29th.

Editor: Lu Ziqing

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