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World boost as Hongkong avoid top two

HONGKONG have been handed the ideal draw in their bid to reach the final stages of the women's team title event at next month's World Championships in Gothenburg in Sweden.

The territory, the Asian women's team champions, managed to avoid the powerful Chinese and North Korean squads in the draw for the two eight-team, round-robin groups.

The only serious threat to Hongkong in Group B looks set to come from the traditionally strong South Koreans, but with three teams from each group progressing to the final stages the territory have every reason to be confident.

They will also face France, Russia, Japan, England, Finland and Slovakia in the round robin.

The draw also gives Hongkong a chance to turn the tables on France, who knocked out the territory in the last World Championships in Chiba, Japan, two years ago.

Tony Yue, chairman of the Hongkong Table Tennis Association, said: ''We have a good chance of reaching the final stages because we only have to finish third in our group to get through.

''South Korea look to be our main rivals but they haven't been in good form lately.We should also prove too strong for France this time,'' he said.

Hongkong have avoided an early confrontation with world champions China, who have been drawn in Group A with North Korea, Hungary, Romania, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the United States.

North and South Korea have entered separate squads for the Gothenburg tournament, from May 11-26, after fielding a unified team at the last championships.

Hongkong's top women players, Chan Tan-lui, who won a singles bronze medal in Chiba, Chai Po-wa, Chan Suk-yuen and up-and-coming Cheng Tao, a recent finalist at the Vietnam Golden Racquet tournament, left the territory on Thursday for two weeks' training in Shandong province.

The HKTTA are still waiting for clarification over the draw for the men's team event.

Hongkong were missing from the 16-team draw but a spokesman for the association said it was probably because only the top 16 countries from the last championships would be able to compete for the title.