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Host China tops group B with clean sheet at FIVB World Grand Prix
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08:50, June 23, 2008

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Host China compiled a 3-0 win-loss record after outlasting nemesis Brazil in a five-set thriller to top Group B at the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round held in east China's port city of Ningbo on Sunday.

While Brazil collected two wins to take the second place of the group in the first week preliminary round of the prestigious event.

Earlier, a valiant Thai team battled hard but still slumped to their third straight loss in the group, being defeated by Germany 3-1 to finish at bottom.

Germany, having lost to China and Brazil in a row in previous matches, compiled a 1-2 record and finished third in the standings.

It was the closest and most absorbing match of the three-day stop when China took on the six-time winner Brazil as China twice rallied from one set down to stay on course before stunning a strong Brazilian comeback in the tie-break.

"It is a good match for everybody, I am happy with the game. With more than 40 days countdown to the Beijing Olympics, I expect to play against China in Beijing. But it is always difficult to play against China. It is important to improve ourselves and learn to play against them. They are very strong," Brazil head coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes said after the match.

"I think China has great chance to win a medal at the Beijing Olympics. But you know, there are eight teams who are able to win the championships, so it is hard to say," he added.

The match was tight at the beginning of the opening set, both teams hitting top gear early and scoring some fine winners.

Brazil converted on the first of their two set points for 25-22as skipper Pequeno Paula popped up on the left to pound a clever winner.

China reached the first technical timeout 8-6 in the second set, but the Brazilians replied with a 7-2 run to overtake the lead at 13-10.

The rivalry was still intense after China squeezed through the second set at 26-24. Claudino Fabiana, Oliveira Walewska and Castro Sheilla put Brazil on course as the South American team led the first technical timeout at 8-3 in the third set.

The Chinese spikers did not have cold feet as middle blocker Zhao Ruirui and skipper Li Juan got to work again, helping tie the match at 13-13, but it was the Brazilians that came into the second technical timeout ahead at 16-14.

The Brazilians had the initiative. After a block by Brazil captain Albuquerque Carolina on Wang Yimei, they took the set at 25-22 and were one set up again.

The Brazilian block was quickly into gear in the fourth set, meaning China would have to use all their court craft and improvisation to break through. A superb block from middle blocker Xue Ming on Sheilla helped China reach the second technical timeout in front 16-15.

An ace from setter Wei Qiuyue and a block by Xue on Fabiana moved the Chinese team three points ahead, 19-16. To a thunderous audience, the host team had the momentum and took the hotly contested set at 25-22 after squandering two set points. The went on to take the tie- break at 15-13.

Yet the breathtaking victory does not impressed head coach Chen Zhonghe, who even criticized some starting players openly in the press conference.

"I hope we can improve the players' skills and boost our morale,but many problems were still there. For example, setter Feng Kun had trouble in finding chemistry with the young players, while her replacement Wei Qiuyue is also lost on the court, and libero ZhangNa plays below level."

In the second week preliminary round starting on June 27, China will compete with Japan, Italy and Cuba in Group F to be held in Chinese Hong Kong.

In an earlier match, Thailand caused a lot of trouble for Germany, who had to overcome a first set slump to beat Thailand 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 and 25-22.

Germany had difficulty in finding their range at the beginning of the opening set, while the Thai team was already looking dangerous at the net as Saymai Paladsrichuay and Amporn Hyapha picked off some aggressive points.

Thailand came into the first technical timeout in front 8-7, following an Amporn ace down the right side in German side. The European team returned with some classic play, but it was the Thaiblock that impressed, notably Pleumjit Thinkaow on German captain Cornelia Dumler.

Another ace by Pleumjit gave Thailand a comfortable 16-11 cushion at the second technical timeout. Saymai, Amporn and Nootsara Tomkom kept the points coming for Thailand, while the German girls had hard time in finding their range although they are much higher than the Thai counterparts. Trailing at 18-13, Germany came off for their first timeout of the match in trouble.

Pleumjit continued her top form on the resumption, delivering another skillful block on Margareta Kozuch to move them six points ahead, 22-16. The German girls looked in peril, having difficulty breaking through before giving Thailand the first set of the tournament at 25-19.

German players obviously raised their game in the second set, coming into the second technical timeout ahead 16-10. The Thai skippers swatted some fine winners, threatening a comeback, but Germany had the momentum.

Dumler climbed well on the left to beat a three-strong Thai defense and was able to pull back one set for Germany after a lob,25-18.

Germany came out for the third set with vastly improved blocking and attacking, and went on to take the set 25-21.

The Thai team showed some battling quality in the fourth set and reached the first technical timeout at 8-3. The Asian team continued the pressure upon Germany and stretched the lead to 12-6.But then the German defense got to work again and a 8-4 run brought them to within two points at the second technical timeout 16-14.

A block from Corina Ssuschke on Wilavan helped the German girls tie the match at 17-17 for the first time in the set. Germany finally took the set and the thrilling match at 25-22.

"It is our first victory of the tournament, Thailand is hard to beat and it is difficult for our team to score points. Our team is young and we have to learn to play under pressure. Sometimes we made more mistakes," Germany coach Giovanni Guidetti said of the match.


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