The Chinese women's volleyball team outlasted a tough Cuban squad, advancing to the final with a five- set semifinal victory at the Athens Olympic Games in Athens on August 26 evening.
The victory put the Chinese into their first Olympic final berth in eight years since 1996, where they finished second behind Cuba.
In Athens, China also recorded its sixth win 25-22, 25-20, 17- 25, 23-25 and 15-10 in the tournament, taking revenge from the 2-3 loss to Cuba in the preliminary round last Wednesday.
The two-hour-20 minute match featured two traditional volleyball powerhouses who traded leads in the opener from 2-2 to 12-12 before the Cubans went up 16-14 from two Chinese errors.
However, China ran off a 5-2 rally since then with Zhang Ping sealing the opener with an open spike, 25-22.
In the second set, the Cuban women, who have claimed all volleyball titles in last three Olympics, fell behind 10-5 as China scored three consecutive points from serving, who steadily pushed ahead for a 23-16 lead.
After Cuba launched a 4-0 run, Yang Hao scored her back-court attack and Liu Yanan stopped the Cuban attack over the net to win the second 25-20.
Yet, with cheers from the crowd and injured wing-striker Paz Nancy Carrillo from the bench who severely twisted her ankle early in the second set, the Cubans took a 6-3 lead in the third set.
They even blocked two spikes in a row from Chinese striker Wang Lina, and hurried to 12-6 with a 4-0 run and reached the set-point 24-17 by Fernandez Barros's blitz attack.
When China tried to save some of the seven set-points, Yang's attack was stopped by Liana Mesa Luaces and captain Yumilka Ruiz Luaces.
Cuba scored four points in block and two aces in the set, while China had one and none respectively.
The fourth set witnessed a series of fundamental errors from the Chinese side, including sending digs straight back over the net, to allow Cuba power to an early lead 4-1.
After China soon clawed its way back with a 4-0 run to 6-6 and 21-21, Cuba scored two straight points and Carrillo's kill made Cuba reach the set-point before its captain Ruiz leveled the game 2-2 with her high-flying attack over Chinese Yang.
In the tie-break fifth set, China again took an early lead, this time at 6-1 and 8-2. Two wing-strikers Yang and Wang combined to score the last five points for China who eventually downed the Cubans with contributions from every member of the team.
China will face Russia on Sunday to vie for the Olympic gold medal after the latter defeated Brazil with a tremendous 3-2 turnaround.
(People's Daily August 27, 2004)