As millions of eyes were glued to Australia for the rugby world cup, Taiwanese had eyes only for Japan. Baseball is the one sport in Taiwan that truly captures people's hearts, and so any tournament in which it plays is followed closely. Last week, however, it was not just any old tournament. The Asian championships pitted the region's best national teams against each other. At stake: not only national pride, but a place in next year's Olympics. The odds-on favourite was Japan, whom few expected even to raise a sweat in winning the first of the two Asian spots. The competition for the second spot was fierce though, with Taiwan wary of the strong South Korean team. It is hard not to put a nationalistic spin on the tournament, given that Taiwan was reduced to playing as Chinese Taipei, the badge it wears at the Olympics. Indeed, as President Chen Shui-bian starts whipping up a storm to fan the fires of patriotism, he could not have hoped for a better result. When Taiwan beat South Korea, the collective grins around the island were testament to the enormity of the victory. By the time it came to face Japan, the island was at a standstill, and even politicians stopped shouting to watch the game. Tears flowed as Chinese Taipei got thrashed, but in the end it did not matter. With crucial matches against Japan and South Korea out of the way, the grudge match against China was at hand. On paper, the match appeared to mirror the David and Goliath cliche. And, in fact, the result bore that out. The diminutive island off the mainland coast took the game 3:1, and every Taiwanese was at hand to see, hear and smell the victory. More important, despite the earlier thrashing at the hands of Japan, the two wins, combined with favourable results from the other games, meant that Chinese Taipei will be taking its place at the baseball stadium in Athens next year. Absent will be China.