Chinese given fright but still edge closer to title

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 September, 1999, 12:00am

China took a crucial step towards retaining their title when they edged arch-rivals South Korea in a five-set thriller in the Asian Women's Championship at a full-house Queen Elizabeth Stadium last night.

The group win was significant for the Chinese because they need only to play Group A winners Japan and second-placed Thailand in the championship stage which features round-robin matches between the top four teams.

The complicated format sees results between teams in the group stage being carried to the championship phase. It means that China will not have to play South Korea again.

It means the Chinese should have little problem in registering their seventh straight championship triumph as they have regularly beaten Japan and Thailand down the years.

But it was South Korea - conquerors of China in the 1994 Asian Games final and last year's World Championship - who gave them a scare last night.

China eventually ran out 31-29, 19-25, 21-25, 25-23, 22-20 winners.

Chinese coach Hu Jin said his team's inability to perform to their full potential had resulted in such a close match.

'We always have the upper-hand against the shorter Koreans at the net but we weren't able to play at our best in this aspect tonight. We could have won easier if we played better in this aspect,' he said.

'The Koreans were at their best, both in defence and in their fast attacks. Our players were under tremendous pressure to win. Fortunately, they were still able to maintain their spirited game and do well,' Hu said.

While China's attacks were led by influential star Sun Yue and up-and-coming Wang Lina, the Koreans, despite their shorter height, were equally impressive.

China had a tough game from the start as they saved four set points before taking the first set 31-29.

After the Koreans took the next two sets the Chinese levelled the match at 2-2 - setting the stage for a breathtaking final set.

China faced two match points at 14-13 and 15-14 in the shortened set but managed to keep their hopes alive. Both teams sustained a total of seven deuces before China finally ended it.