World Grand Prix champion China is just one step away from its first World Cup title in 18 years after taming world champion Italy 3-0 Friday in Osaka for its 10th straight win.
The Chinese women outscored the Italians 26-24, 25-18 and 25-20 to remain unbeaten in the round-robin tournament and lead the standings with 20 points. Their closest rival Brazil hammered the United States 3-0 on Friday for a 9-1 win-loss record.
Japan upset Sydney Olympic champion Cuba in five sets to share a 7-3 record with Italy and the United States. With one match remaining for each team, China and Brazil have secured top two finishes and tickets to the Athens Olympics in 2004 while Japan, Italy and the United States are to strive for the other Olympic berth on offer.
Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe was satisfied with his team's performance.
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"We played consistently through the match," said Chen. "We came across some difficulties during the match and we overcame them with confidence."
Italy, the 3-0 loser to Cuba on Thursday, suffered its second defeat in two days.
"We tried hard in the match, and I think we did better than yesterday," said Italian head coach Marco Bonitta.
The Italians put up strong resistance against the Chinese in the first set. They overcame a 20-17 deficit to tie it at 24-all.
After 1.96-meter Zhao Ruirui smashed home a ball to give China a 25-24 advantage, Simona Rinieri drove the ball out to surrender the opener.
The second set was more comfortable for the Chinese. They established a 15-10 lead with a 7-2 run on back of crisp spikes and efficient blocks by towering Zhao and held on to make it two sets to nil.
The Italians struggled for a 19-17 lead in the third set, but China ran off eight of the last nine points to clinch the victory.
Spiker Yang Yao led China with 16 points, Zhao made three successful blocks to finish with 15 points.
"We stayed calm playing against the world champion," Zhao said at the press conference. "We are more confident than before when facing crisis."
Brazil beat the United States 25-15, 25-23 and 25-20 for its ninth consecutive win after an opening loss to China and keeps alive its title hopes.
"I am pleased that we have secured a ticket to the Athens Games," said Brazilian head coach Jose Guimaraes. "It's a dream come true and my duty has been accomplished."
Virna Dias led Brazil with 15 points and Coimbra added 14.
"It's disappointing to lose, we have to try our best tomorrow," Toshida added.
The United States will play Cuba on Saturday while Brazil takes on Italy.
Roared on by 10,000 chanting, cheering Japanese fans, the hosts outlasted Cuba 25-15, 19-25, 25-21, 21-25 an 15-13. Japan will meet China in its last match.
In Friday's other actions, Poland beat South Korea, Turkey defeated Argentina and Dominican Republic downed Egypt, all in straight sets.