SAR ready, but wary as they face acid test in opener

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong women's team will need to overcome a tough test in their opening match against Belarus if they are to score their third successive silver medal at the world team championships, which kick-off at the Guangzhou Gymnasium today.

Seeded first in group C, which also comprises Germany, Austria, Spain and Thailand, the women's team of Jiang Huajun, Tie Yana, Lin Ling, Zhang Rui and Lau Sui-fei are one of the title favourites along with defending champions China and Singapore.

But coach Li Huifen said even the group stage will prove difficult, with the clashes against Belarus and Germany crucial to their qualifying hopes.

'Belarus are tough opponents not because of their ranking but their playing style,' said Li.

'Their top player Viktoria Pavlovich plays with a typical backspin and both Tie and Lin find it difficult playing her. She [Pavlovich] may sweep two points against us.

'Germany is another team to watch as they are ranked in the top eight in the world.'

The team event is played under a best-of-five singles format, with the top two players from each team allowed to feature in two ties if required. A total of 106 men's and 81 women's teams with more than 700 paddlers will be taking part in the Guangzhou event, the last opportunity to review the world's top players before the Olympic Games in August.

The world's top 24 teams are featured in Division One, while the others are competing in Division Two to Division Four.

'Our mind is firmly set for the world championships as it is too early to talk about the Olympic Games. Our target is to reach the third final in a row,' said Li.

Hong Kong lost to China on both previous occasions in Doha (2004) and Bremen (2006).

'The mainlanders will be the team to beat. Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan are to compete for the remaining top four positions if the form book holds,' said Li.

'But we must perform well in the group stage before we can reach the knock-out stage.'

Only the top teams in each group will automatically qualify for the quarter-finals, while the second and third placed teams compete against each other to fill the four remaining spots in the quarters.

Hosts China, spearheaded by the world's top five players including Zhang Yining, Li Xiaoxia, Guo Yue, Wang Nan and Guo Yan, begin the defence of their title they have won 15 times out of 16 stretching back to 1976.

In the men's event, Hong Kong will take on Spain in their opening match today in group D, which also comprises the seeded Singapore, Greece, Denmark and Belarus.

'The match against Singapore will be crucial as we probably need to beat them to top the group,' said men's team coach Chan Kong-wah.