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China, Sweden into Olympic women's handball quarterfinals
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08:47, August 18, 2008

Host China reached the quarterfinals at the Beijing Olympic women's handball after stunning European powerhouse France 21-18 in their last preliminary game, while debutant Sweden also found their place in top eight, upsetting Brazil 25-22 here on Sunday.

"The key to our victory is the change of the defending strategy. In the previous four games, we always adopted a 3-2-1 defending system, which left too much space for opponents to break through. But today we tightened our defending line," said Kang Jae-won, silver medallist at 1988 Seoul Games.

It was a do-or-die game for China, whose opponent finished fourth in the Athens Games and fifth in 2007 World Championship. However, the "much stronger" French side appeared nail-biting in front of China's tightened defence system, only netting five goals 20 minutes into the game.

The host should have enjoyed an early lead, only if they could improve their shooting efficiency. Though constantly launching fast breaks after ball interception, China merely scored nine goals out of 29 shots in the first half and trailed one point at the interval.

"It is my first Olympic experience and I don't want it to end so soon,"said Chinese goalkeeper Huang Hong, who paced China to charge a 9-2 run fifteen minutes after the game resumed.

In the final quarter of the game, France mounted a fierce fightback at the end of the match, but failed to even the score until the buzzer.

"We knew France was stronger than us. But in order to achieve our goal to reach top eight, we have to beat them. We believe that everything can happen before the end of the game, so we just fought with our highest morale," said left back Wang Shasha, who led China with five goals.

Having snatched this decisive win, China outclassed France to finish third in Group A. They will meet South Korea, who roared past Hungary 33-22 today, in next Tuesday's quarterfinals.

China's surprising victory also made Kazakhstan's earlier 24-24 tie to Angola meaningless. The mid-Asian team had to cancel the celebrating party and book their return tickets.

Brazilian left back Aline Santos' birthday mood was totally ruined after her team conceded 22-25 to Olympic debutant Sweden. Besides the game, Brazil also lost their chance to make it into the next round.

"I am very disappointed. We lost the chance to reach the quarterfinal, it was not a lucky day for me," said the 1.95-meter Santos, who is supposed to celebrate her 27th birthday today.

Santos netted four goals for Brazil, but the seventh placer at Athens Games failed to match Sweden's strength.

"I am very proud of these girls. It is our first time to compete in Olympic Games and they made history. We fulfilled our target to enter the quarterfinals, which means we still have three games to play next week,"said Swedish coach Ulf Schefvert in a post-match conference.

Although Sweden made the history, it will be difficult for them to go further because they will find an in-form Norway waiting ahead. The newly crowned European Champion edged out Romania 24-23 to top Group A with an all-win record.

Also to celebrate her birthday today, Russian center back Ekaterina Andryushina was in the right mood. As a member of three times world champ, Andryushina saw her team upset Germany, the third placer in 2007 World Championship, 30-29 in a nip and tuck clash.


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1 China 35 13 13 61
2 USA 19 21 25 65
3 Great Britain 11 6 8 25
4 Germany 9 6 6 21
5 Australia 8 10 11 29
6 South Korea 8 9 5 22
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