Volleyballers keep dream alive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2008, 12:00am

China clung to their hopes of retaining their Olympic volleyball title last night after crushing arch-rivals Russia 3-0 to advance to the semi-finals.

The victory capped another good day for China, who bagged four gold medals to take their burgeoning tally to 43 and maintain a 17-gold lead over the US. China has a total of 76 medals, three behind the US.

Li Xiaopeng and Zou Kai continued the hosts' dominance in male gymnastics, diver He Chong proved a class apart in the 3 metre springboard and Lu Chunlong weighed in with the men's trampoline title as China showed no sign of slowing in the battle for supremacy with the US.

China entered last night's volleyball quarter-final clash against Russia as the underdog, given their poor showings in the group stages. China had only narrowly advanced to the quarter-final stage after finishing third to Cuba and the United States in group A.

But they showed they may be peaking at the right time with a 25-22, 27-25, 25-19 sweep of Russia, who finished runners-up to China in Athens.

'It is surprising for us to be in the semi-finals after being in such a difficult situation,' said captain Zhou Suhong. 'In the preliminary round we didn't play very smoothly. We are hoping to play to our full potential.'

China will face Brazil in the semi-final tomorrow. The South American team are the favourite for the Olympic title after their World Grand Prix victory last month.

'I think we are playing good technically, physically and mentally,' Brazil's Sheilla Castro said after they outclassed Japan 3-0 in another quarter-final match-up yesterday. 'We are doing our best all around.'

Chinese coach Chen Zhonghe, whose team have beaten Brazil only once in three encounters this year, said: 'It is obvious that Brazil is at their peak condition.

'Our performance is not consistent. They have changed their outside hitter and that has made them stronger.

'In the past, they had extremely strong middle blockers and now they are strong in all positions. They have a very comprehensive range of skills and are a fast attacking team. We will still try to fight hard.'

Chen is hoping for a repeat of last night's performance, which delighted the crowd of 13,000 spectators.