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Monday, July 17, 2000, updated at 09:43(GMT+8)

Coach Optimistic Ahead of Tough Task

Struggling Chinese volleyball coach Wang Jiawei showed nothing but his usual confidence ahead of the do-or-die Olympic qualifiers which begin on July 24.

Unmoved by the twists and turns experienced by the women's side who had won a last-minute Olympics ticket, Wang, coaching men's team, is more confident of winning the Olympic berth than his counterpart Hu Jin, who coaches a world and Olympic runners-up women's team.

Wang's team is set to play other qualifiers Greece, Spain and Tunisia, with only the winners going to Sydney. It will be the last chance for all of them to get to the Olympics.

China has a poor record against the three.

The only one they have beaten in the past two years is Tunisia at the 1999 World Cup.

"We have a 50-50 chance," said Wang, who is optimistic despite his failure to lead the team to satisfactory results in last year's World Cup and the previous Asian Olympic qualifying tournament.

The team have just finished a one-week training tour of Italy, where they have been trying to work out ways to beat their taller and stronger rivals. In the four encounters with the Italian team which were mainly composed of bench players, the Chinese had three wins and one defeat. That was encouraging.

According to Wang, his dream of winning through to Sydney depends on two things - a new line-up and fast play, which he claims may be the best way of playing.

In April, the traditionally conservative coach was forced to make his biggest reshuffle since he took over the job in 1995. With veterans like setter Zhou Jian'an, 34, ace spiker Zhang Xiang, 29 and assistant spiker Zhu Gang, 28, the team had a series of disappointing results, including finishing second-to-last in the 1999 World Cup.

So now he is bringing in some flamboyant new faces. Even the Asian No 1 ace spiker had to settle for a place on the bench. His place went to the much younger Sun Zhiye from the Chinese Army Club.

"They feel less pressure," Wang said, referring to the young players who have been recruited into the national team for the first time. "They are always willing to give more than their best."

Fast play, according to Wang, is expected to give the Chinese a surprise new attack in the coming qualifiers.

"We are faster in attack now we have changed the ace spiker," Wang said. "Speed will be a big factor for us if we are to succeed.

"Actually, I do not think we are weaker than our rivals. We have all got a chance."

"There is no need to mention the huge task beforehand. We should just look forward to them," he added.

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Struggling Chinese volleyball coach Wang Jiawei showed nothing but his usual confidence ahead of the do-or-die Olympic qualifiers which begin on July 24.

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