China show Puerto Rico no mercy
China proved they would be the team to watch at the Olympic Games this summer after a convincing victory over Puerto Rico in their FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix opening match at the Macau Forum last night.
Despite the absence of top spiker Wang Yimei due to injury, the Chinese women showed their opponents no mercy, winning the pool A match in straight sets.
Hui Ruoqi, who will likely take Wang's place at the London Games, top-scored with 13 points, including 10 from spikes, as China recorded a 25-15, 25-19, 25-16 win in front a 3,200-strong crowd.
China coach Yu Juemin said his team tried two different attacking formats in the absence of Wang, and was happy with the outcome. 'The players delivered on the tactics we had been practising,' he said.
Yu admitted that Wang's injury, sustained during a practice session in late April, had given him plenty to think about as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games bronze medallists prepared for London. 'We have built our attack around Wang over these years, but now we have to change our game plan because of her injury. There are only a few weeks to go before the London Games,' he said.
The Chinese have not given up hope of Wang making a miraculous recovery, but they know the chances of that are slim. The towering spiker, who tore a ligament in her right ankle and has since undergone surgery, was a key player at the Beijing Games four years ago.
In another match last night, Thailand, who just missed out on a place in the London Olympics after Japan lost to Serbia in a controversial qualifying match last month, won their opening game against Argentina, 25-18, 25-9, 25-22.
'All the players felt very upset after failing to qualify for the Olympic Games, but they have now recovered and want to do well in the World Grand Prix,' Thailand coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai said.
Both Japan and Serbia qualified for the Olympics, but Japan can avoid stronger nations in the early rounds of the 12-team competition in London after last month's defeat. The sport's governing body, the FIVB, has dismissed allegations of any foul play.
A total of 16 teams have qualified for the World Grand Prix, which offers prize money of US$1.69 million.
The best five teams after the preliminary rounds over the next three weekends in 12 cities will make it to the finals, along with hosts China. The finals will take place in Ningbo between June 27 and July 1.