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INCHEON (FIBA Asia Championship for Women
) - China go into this week's FIBA Asia Championship for Women in Incheon gunning for a fourth straight title - but Korea will be a big hurdle to clear.
The Koreans have a winning tradition, having captured golds in 1997 and 1999 to precede China's current streak, and will again be dangerous as hosts of this week's event.
The FIBA Asia Championship for Women is played on two levels.
China, Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Malaysia are among those in Level I while in Level II are Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, India and Uzbekistan.
The top four sides in Level I will advance to the semi-finals, while the other two will have to play against the top two teams in Level II in classification games in a bid to avoid relegation.
As China are hosting the 2008 Olympics, they have been given a free pass into next year's event, while the highest-placed team other than China at the Asia Championship will also advance to the Beijing tournament.
If the FIBA World Championship for Women in Brazil is the barometer to gauge teams' chances in the Asia Championship, China have a slight edge as they finished 12th, Korea 13th and Chinese Taipei 14th in Brazil.
If the Asian Games are a strong indictor, then China will be firm favourites.
Miao Lijie, Chen Nan and Chen Xiaoli all played starring roles in the December competition in which China won the gold medal over Chinese Taipei.
Looking to upset both Korea and China are Japan, who have finished second or third in eight out of the last 10 tournaments.
Japan have taken gold just once in the history of the FIBA Asia Championship for Women and that was in 1970.
The Japanese warmed up for this event with a three-game sweep of New Zealand in a friendly series. Their first game will be against China on Sunday.
Chinese Taipei are always a difficult team to play as well, something they showed by beating Japan to a place at last year's World Championship.
Uzbekistan will open the tournament against Hong Kong at 10am on Sunday followed by India against Singapore before Sri Lanka and Vietnam clash in the afternoon.
Level I play then tips off with Korea tackling Thailand, followed by Japan against China and finally Malaysia against Chinese Taipei. Gary Rose