HK teams survive to fight another day

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong's women forced their way into the semi-finals of the world team championships yesterday as their male counterparts flirted with disaster before reaching the quarter-finals.

The women fought off Austria in their quarter-final to win 3-2 in a gruelling three-hour contest.

In the men's competition, Hong Kong edged out Belarus 3-2 in their final group match. In another thrilling three-hour match, the SAR were on the brink of elimination as they went behind 2-0 to the former Soviet Union state.

With Denmark having defeated Greece 3-1 on an adjacent court, Hong Kong, group leaders going into the match, faced falling to fourth place and oblivion if they lost to Belarus. Only the top three men's teams qualify for the knockout stage.

Tang Peng was surprisingly defeated 3-2 by unheralded Vitaly Nekhvedovich in the opener, while former Guangdong player Li Ching, who has yet to find his best in front of his former home crowd, was no match for Vladimir Samsonov, losing in four games.

World number six Samsonov is the highest-ranked European in the tournament following the withdrawal of German star Timo Boll. His last defeat by an SAR player was at the 2004 Athens Olympics, when he lost to Leung Chu-yan.

After Ko Lai-chak pulled one back for Hong Kong, defeating Evgueni Chtchetinine 3-0 in the third match, the tension in the Hong Kong camp was almost palpable as Tang met Samsonov in the following tie.

'We all knew there would be no way back if I lost,' said Tang, who ranks 27th in the world. 'I had to throw everything I had into it to go for a win and perhaps it was that attitude that helped me achieve one of my best results so far.'

The 25-year-old won 3-1 against one of the best players in the world before Li held his nerve to wrap up the match with a straight-games victory over Nekhvedovich.

'It was a big escape,' said coach Chan Kong-wah. 'Tang's defeat in the opening tie was a surprise, but his victory over Samsonov was an even bigger surprise.'

Despite finishing first in the group, Hong Kong were drawn in the upper half pool in the knockout stage and are likely to meet China in the semi-finals, but first they must beat Romania.

In the women's competition, Hong Kong's win over Austria repeated their last meeting, in the group stage. Coach Li Huifen said it was always difficult against the Austrians. 'We are two very close teams as the two scores indicate,' said Li.

Looking ahead to the semi-final clash against China, 3-0 winners over Romania, Li admitted there would be little hope of an upset.

'The Chinese are represented by the world's top five here,' said Li. 'Who can beat them?'

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Hong Kong Table Tennis Association, Tony Yue Kwok-leung, said he would vote against the proposed ban on the practice of countries importing players when the issue comes before today's board meeting of the International Table Tennis Federation.

'I don't know why players over the age of 21 should not be allowed to represent another association at world title events, while younger players should be allowed to do so,' said Yue, one of the 50 board directors. 'And if a player is eligible to play at the Olympic Games, there should be no reason why he or she should not be allowed to play in the world championships and World Cup.'