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Volleyball - 26. August 2007.

China chases Netherlands in FIVB World Grand Prix title race

World Grand Prix gold medal, a fight between The Netherlands and China

Ningbo, August 25, 2007

Following an opening full sets loss to the Dutch women, the hosts bounced back to collect three wins in a row and improve to a 3-1 record in the six-team round-robin tournament.

China, who snatched their only FIVB World Grand Prix title in 2003, will have a chance to repeat the feat if they beat Brazil in the last round clash on Sunday and hopefully the Netherlands lose to Russia.

“I set the goal of testing and improving some of our young players and I think we have done that through the tough matches here,” said China head coach Chen Zhonghe. “To win the title is not the top priority for us.”

While the Russian contingent’s hope of landing a fourth title at the renowned event have been shattered as it slipped to a 2-2 win-loss record with only one match against the Netherlands to play.

“Russia started with problems in the opening set and did not play hard as the Chinese did,” said Russia coach Giovanni Caprara. “We made a lot more mistakes than our opponents did, that might be the reason why China won at last.”

China reaped 23 points from the errors of Russia.

It seemed the Chinese women were never affected by their three full-sets matches in the last three days. They made solid start to the opening set to go up 16-10 into the second TTO. But Ekaterina Gamova and Lioubov Shashkova started to open fire, helping Russia move closer and then tying the match at 21-all after a block on Yang Hao from Gamova.

Although Gamova saved one set point, Chinese middle blocker Xu Yunli popped up on the right to smash home for a 25-23 win.

The two teams traded runs to tie it at 25-all late in the second set before Zhou Suhong and Yang Hao had consecutive kills to make it two sets to nil.

In the third set, Russia managed to stay within 22-21 and 23-22, but Yang Hao drove a ball out of bounds to give China a match point and libero Zhang Xian dup up three shots by Ekaterina Gamova, who hit the ball out in the fourth try to surrender the match.

Earlier on Saturday, the Netherlands moved one step closer towards their first ever title at the FIVB World Grand Prix as they blitzed Poland in straight sets for a fourth consecutive victory.

A victory over Russia on Sunday will secure the title for the Dutch women, but the world champions vowed to fight for honor.

“I will try to beat my friend Avital Selinger (Netherlands coach) and break his desire to win the tournament,” said Russia coach Giovanni Caprara.

Consecutive wins over Olympic champions China, defending champions Brazil and traditional powerhouse Italy boosted the Netherlands’ confidence, making them a lot more deadly everywhere on the court in the match against Poland. Spearheaded by Manon Flier and Caroline Wensink, who contributed 12 points each, the Dutch side had no great trouble beating Poland 25-22, 25-22 and 25-23.

“It is not the best game we played in the tournament, but I feel happy about the three zero win,” said Dutch captain Ingrid Visser. “Our team is getting confidence for tomorrow's game.”

The Polish team seemed to be running out of steam after making the FIVB World Grand Prix finals for the first time in history, dropping four matches in four tries in the Final Round.

“Our team had some trouble with physical condition after playing so many matches in a few days,” said Poland coach Marco Bonitta. “Some players were playing below bar, including the captain.”

In Saturday’s other action, Italy snapped a two-match losing streak after beating three-time defending champions Brazil 25-22, 19-25, 25-18 and 25-21. Taismary Aguero, the leading scorer in the tournament, contributed 28 points for Italy.

“I am happy with the win as we played very good game against a very strong team,” said Italy coach Massimo Barbolini. “Our team also played good match yesterday, but we lost. It is important to win today.”

The Brazilians, who slipped to a 1-3 record with their third loss in three days, will have only honor to play for in Sunday’s match against China.

“Since losing to the Netherlands, China has become better and better,” said Brazil coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes. “I saw China play Russia, and they really did a great job. It is difficult to play them tomorrow.”

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