China's invincible women light up Coliseum
Spectators cannot seem to get enough of China's women's volleyball team. For more than a quarter of a century, the mainlanders have played at the same venue, making their annual pilgrimage to the World Grand Prix finals and thrilling thousands along the way with their all-action play.
Last night at Hong Kong Coliseum, a crowd of 8,000 were treated to another dazzling show of skill, power and strength as the Athens Olympic champions announced their intentions with machine-like efficiency. They outclassed Japan 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-16) in 61 minutes to get their campaign in group B off to a flying start.
It was the biggest crowd for an event at the Games so far and it was the kind of rip-roaring start that spectators have come to expect from one of the world's best teams. China are serious about winning the gold medal. They have brought their best team and their class told in the end against a young Japanese outfit.
China coach Cai Bin was satisfied with his team's performance. 'We still have a way to go and we can't say we're going to win gold after just one game,' Cai said. 'We are taking it match by match and I expect my team to improve with each game. It's satisfying to play well at this early stage. Hopefully, we will play better in our next match.'
Taiwan had better watch out. China will take on their cross-strait rivals on Monday. A win would put China through to the semi-finals and a giant step closer to Thursday's final.
'We have a mixture of youth and experience. We have given two new players the chance to shine on the international stage for the first time. Chao Yao and Lu Qian made very good debuts and I give them 80 marks tonight for their performance,' Cai said.
'This squad are preparing for next year's Asian Games [in Guangzhou] so we need to give the younger players a chance to play. That's why we are serious about winning.'
Meanwhile, Hong Kong lost their opening match in group A, going down to South Korea 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-17) in 66 minutes. But coach Kwok Kin-chuen saw some positive signs. 'We looked good for some periods, but we still have a lot to learn,' said Kwok. 'We have definitely improved over the years, but we are still lacking ability in several areas of the game. We're lacking in exposure and experience and it showed against South Korea.'
Hong Kong have improved in past 10 years under Kwok's guidance, finishing 10th out of 14 teams in September's Asian Championships in Vietnam. Thailand won, ahead of China. It was one of the few opportunities Hong Kong had of competing against the top teams on the international stage. 'We had always finished last or near last before; it was probably one of our best results. We are strictly an amateur team,' Kwok said.
The Koreans, represented by their under-18 team, beat Guam on Wednesday and are in the semi-finals.