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China makes hardest one in best way
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It is the hardest eight-placed finishing the Chinese men's basketball team have ever won at the Olympics, but it is also the one they cherish most.

China recorded 2-4 after losing 94-68 to Lithuania in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, pocketing their third eighth-finishing, after the ones in 1996 and 2004, in the Olympic history.

There was little to say about the results when they lost to the United States, Spain, Greece and won over Germany and Angola, but the process was more like a roster-and-coaster than it appeared to be.

China, underdogs who weren't expected to make the top eight before the tournament, led by 14 points at the start of the fourth quarter, but were dragged into the overtime before losing 85-75 to world champions Spain.

One step away from pulling off the biggest surprise of the Beijing Olympics, China gathered themselves together to win the following two matches to enter the quarter-finals when they were down by 0-2.

The quarter-final matchup was a repeat of the 2004 Olympic clash in which China lost 95-75. China were accustomed to the situation of facing the group leaders and were demolished to a dismal ending.

This time, however, China took the full-winged Lithuania to a 40-minute battle when Lithuania doubled Chinese pivot Yao Ming all the way down to the end to collect the precious victory.

China were denied the chance to make the history as the 5th-8th placings playoffs were wiped off from the tournament.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) decided to place the 5th-8th teams according to their win-and-loss records from results in the preliminary round and quarter-finals. Australia, which had better record in the other group, finished ahead of China on the 7th placings.

It didn't not dampen the excitement of the fans and recognition of local media as the national team entertained the audiences with close matchups and inspired them with hard-working spirit.

"It is a quite different 8th-placed finishing from the one of four years ago in Athens," Yao said on Wednesday. "I felt sort of bored four years ago because we were lucky to enter the quarter-finals. But this time we enjoyed the games, entertained the fans and ourselves. We deserve to be in the top eight."

Yao admitted this is the best Olympics he has ever played in his 11-year cap, and he was not sure about his next Olympic trip as he will turn 32 in 2012.

Yi Jianlian, who will play for the New Jersey Nets next season, came back from a one-year spell with the Milwaukee Bucks to prove as the best defensive help to Yao, and Sun Yue, who had signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, is the first eye-catching Chinese guard in the world.

Both are steady cannons on the offensive end and center pieces of Chinese newly-adopted defensive system, which vaulted them into the top teams in the world.

"We knew only there was a Yao in the Chinese squad, but now we know they have Yi and Sun as well," Lithuania's Sarunas Jasikevicius said.

China might wait another four years, or even longer, to make a historic breakthrough at the Olympics, but they proved as a consistent power in the world basketball.

(Xinhua News Agency August 21, 2008)

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