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China beats defending champion Italy, finishing fifth
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Olympic debutant China staged its come-of-age show Tuesday by beating defending Olympic champion Italy 10-7 in women's water polo, finishing fifth in the Beijing Olympic Games.

Spearheaded by Gao Ao, who led her team with four goals in the match, China seemed to dominate the game from the very beginning, leaving Italy to struggle to keep up.

After losing to Italy 10-9 in the earlier round of play, China wanted to show Italy that they were out for the win, taking the first period 3-1. Liu Ping scored her team's third goal with just 18 seconds left on the clock.

Italy managed to bridge the gap to 5-4 after the second quarter and successfully scored three goals in the third session, finishing 7-6 before the third break.

China, with high morale, successfully scored four goals, including two penalty shots in the fourth quarter, while keeping Italy pointless. Italy also got a penalty shot less than three minutes to the end, but was blocked by China's goalkeeper Yang Jun.

Italy's center forward, Elisa Casanova, had very little time in the pool after receiving another shot to the nose, leaving her on the bench in support. Her missing out on the game apparently took a tool on the team.

"I'm really happy with our win today. Fifth place is a good position for us, and I am satisfied with my team's performance and their progress. Even though sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, all in all, I think we have played five very good games," Juan Jane, China's Spanish head coach said.

"When I arrived in November (2007), if anyone in the first week would have said we would be in the top five at the Olympics, I would have said 'no way'. But now, in my opinion, in the world of women's water polo, at the moment, China is a good team," he said.

In contrast to Jane's satisfaction, Italy's head coach Mauro Maugeri was not happy with his team's performance.

"In the first match, our motivation was very strong. But in this second match, we had no motivation. You could tell that the Chinese team is younger and playing at home. My team is very old, maybe 10 years older and so their motivation may have been less," he said.

The coach said he was shocked with China's fast improvement. "One year ago, China ranked 14th. Now if China you want to win China, you play good. If you don't play good, you lose."

"One year ago, we could possibly play (with China) without one eye. Now not two eyes, but three eyes, four eyes," the Italian said.

The Chinese women's water polo team was set up four years ago. Its best record in the past was the 14th place in the FINA world championships.

Chinese players attributed their progress to their Spanish coach Jane. "From team spirit to tactic details, he has brought many new things to us. We used to be very broad-brush in games, but now for every game, we gave out our best. We don't give up any chance at any game," Chinese goalkeeper Yang Jun said.

China's fifth finish could possibly keep Jane with the team, but the Spanish said he hasn't talked with the Chinese side for their future cooperation.

"The Olympic Games are finished now and I will go home to hang out with my family and friends. But I would like to stay in China because half of my heart belongs to China and the other half to Spain," he said.

The Netherlands will play the United States for the women's water polo gold medal on Thursday. The Dutch earned the right to play in their first Olympic final with a heart-stopping 8-7 victory over 2005 world champions Hungary on Tuesday.

Australia will play against Hungary for Bronze on Thursday.

(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2008)

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