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09:52, August 15, 2008

Host China came closer to an Olympic quarterfinal berth following a memorable 3-2 win over error-prone Japan in men's volleyball preliminaries on Thursday night.

In the deafening cheers of "Zhongguo, Bisheng (China, Win)" from more than 13,000 home fans, China gave full play of its fast-attack style to tame its old rival 25-20, 25-23, 17-25, 16-25 and 15-10. Fang Yingchao, the X-factor of the game, scored the last point China with powerful spike.

"I'm so proud my players are able to get rid of the curse of 'wasting early win by losing in the end', let alone they have done it at the Olympics," said China's head coach Zhou Jian'an.

Zhou sending players Fang Yichao and Shi Hairong to the court when the team trailed in the fourth set.

"I gambled by sending Fang and Sui. Japan are very familiar with our line-up at the first three sets because we played many times before, but Fang and Sui are new to them," he said. "I think they have to spend time to get used to the changes, which will give us chances."

China, who beat Venezuela 3-2 on Tuesday, holds a 2-1 win-loss record now to rank the fourth in Pool A. They will play the next two matches against the United States and Italy.

Earlier in the afternoon, Poland toppled Serbia, the World League silver medalist this year, in a thrilling 3-1, to top Group B, but the most exciting competition of the group went to the head-to-head of the world's top two teams Brazil and Russia.

Russia rallied strongly back from one set down to repeat the glory of outgunning Brazil 3-1 in the bronze-medal match at the World League in July, giving the defending Olympic champion the first loss with effective blocking and powerful serving.

The third set went as far as 31-29 before Russian earned the hard win with a kill block.

"The importance of the victory is that we are in advantage to get survived from this real tough group, but that's all. Now we need to focus on the next match," said Russia head coach Vladimir Alekno.

Brazil head coach Bernardo Rezende expressed satisfaction to his players and played down the team's goal from top three to final eight.

"We have done a good job at defense too, but we also made a lot of mistakes," said Rezende. "We have made progress since the World League, but it is not enough to realize our goal of a medal. Our main goal is still to qualify for the quarterfinals, but we have to really work harder to realize it."

Brazil's core player Gilberto Godoy Filho, or Giba, missed the first three sets due to shoulder injuries, and he is not sure if he could play next match against Poland.

"It's getting much better. I'm doing the therapy that I have to do," said Giba. "Of course I want to play, but I don't want to cause any trouble for Brazil to enter the quarterfinals. It's obviously I'm not good as other players now."

In the first match of the day, Athens silver winner Italy beat Venezuela in straight sets to improve to a 2-1 win-loss record in pool A.

The South Americans, who are making their first appearance at the Olympic Games, have lost three matches in a row in the round robin stage. Their head coach Ricardo Navajas revealed he would step down after the Olympic tournament, but gave no reasons.

"I will leave the team, regardless of the outcome of the Olympic Games," Navajas said. "I have been dealing with a very complicated administration (in Venezuela)," he said. "I don't have a problem with Venezuela. You know what the problem is."

In another two matches of the day, Germany rolled past a fighting Egypt 29-27, 25-21 and 25-21 for its first victory while dropping the Africans to 0-3. The United States to top Pool A after a 3-1 win over Bulgaria.

Twelve teams are competing in two groups in the preliminary round with top four finishers from each group to qualify for the quarter-finals.

China is grouped with Italy, the World Cup bronze medalist Bulgaria, the U.S. Japan and Venezuela and defending champion Brazil, Russia, Serbia, Egypt, Poland and German are in Group B. The knockout stages run from Aug. 20 to 24.


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1 China 22 7 5 34
2 USA 10 9 14 33
5 Germany 7 2 3 12
3 South Korea 6 7 3 16
4 Italia 6 4 3 13
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