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Chinese women's hockey earns breakthrough in Olympics
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The awarding ceremony of women's hockey match of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games is held in Beijing, China, Aug. 22, 2008. The Netherlands won the gold while China got silver and Argentina ranked the third. [Li Ziheng/Xinhua]

The awarding ceremony of women's hockey match of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games is held in Beijing, China, Aug. 22, 2008. The Netherlands won the gold while China got silver and Argentina ranked the third. [Li Ziheng/Xinhua] 

The Chinese women's hockey made a breakthrough in the Olympics by clinching a historic silver medal.

It's their best ever result in world arena and the first-ever hockey medal in Olympics.

The Chinese team was virtually unknown until it won the titles of both the Champions Trophy and the Asian Games in 2002 and finished fifth in its debut at the Sydney Olympics. They made one step ahead in Athens, yet denied a medal by Argentina.

Grouped in the so-called "death pool" facing the world champions the Netherlands, 2000 Olympic titlists Australia and Asian powerhouse South Korea, the sixth-ranked China fought all their way to the semifinals with 1-0 defeat to the Netherlands and 3-3 draw with Australia.

Facing Germany again in the semifinal, China upset the defending champions 3-2, roaring into the final, which was a sweet revenge on their 4-3 loss to Germany four years ago.

Meeting current world No. 1 the Netherlands in the final on Friday night, the Chinese girls suffered a 2-0 loss, but they still managed to keep a clean sheet in 51 minutes. Except the two goals which were somewhat favored by luck, it was a balanced game with both sides having chances to win.

Even the Dutch coach Marc Lammers said he always had respect for the Chinese team. "They don't have many hockey players, but still they are the No. 2 in the Olympics," he said.

"Every player wants to stand at the top podium, but the silver is still a breakthrough," said Huang Junxia, a veteran who played in three Olympic Games since 2000.

"We confront the world No. 1 today, and my players went all out," said China's coach Kim Chang-back, "Dutch players are excellent, but our players are not inferior since they did their best."

The Netherlands, who haven't won the Olympic title for 24 years, finally ended the gold drought.

"It is amazing that we can finally get the gold medal. You can see, almost the whole stadium is orange. China were really tough but in the last 25 minutes we managed to score," said Dutch defender Maartje Paumen.

They were silver medallists at the Athens Games, and got bronze twice in 1996 and 2000.

World No. 2 Argentina took the bronze with a 3-1 win over Germany, following a silver in 2000 and a bronze in 2004.

"Hockey is important and popular in Argentina. I hope the medal will encourage more boys and girls to play hockey," Argentine coach Gabriel Minadeo noted, adding that of course a gold medal was the best way to finish the tournament.

The third-ranked Germany, the surprise winner of Athens Games, failed to make their second appearance on the Olympic podium.

The fourth-ranked Australia downed Great Britain 2-0 to get the fifth position. The Atlanta Games titlists South Korea defeated their Asian counterparts Japan 2-1 in the 9th-10th playoff. Spain beat United States 3-2 for the seventh place. The bottom-ranked South Africa finished 11th beating New Zealand 4-1.

In the men's field, Olympic debutants China made their maiden 4-3 win over South Africa in the final day and finished 11th. Failing to achieve their top-eight target, head coach Kim Sang-ryul was very disappointed and gave only 60 scores to their performance.

During all the six matches they played, the bottom-ranked team claimed their maiden 4-3 win in the 11th-12th playoff over South Africa.

"We had many strong teams as our opponents. This is our first Olympic Games and we lack lots of things," said Captain Song Yi, "some players are too young to follow the pace, and they need more experience."

World No. 2 Germany won the gold, defeating Spain 1-0 on Saturday. It was the Germans' first gold since the Barcelona Games in 1992. They got silver four years ago.

German coach Markus Weise said it's a great pleasure to win gold in such a big tournament. "A great country like Spain with lots of good players did not score, but we did it," he noted.

Ranked fourth in the world, Spain came in the final as a miracle, ousting world champions Australia 3-2 in the semifinals Thursday. The silver medallists at Atlanta Games in 1996 repeated their bronze medal in Beijing.

Australia, now top-ranked in the world, only harvested a bronze with a 6-2 win over the Netherlands. Australian coach Barry Dancer, who would retire after the Games, was satisfied with their performance today, yet he felt disappointed that they did not win the gold.

The Netherlands, silver medallists at Athens Games, finally failed to go back to the podium. They were the most consistent team in the pool stage with the most points.

South Korea powered past Britain 5-2 for the fifth position. In the 7th-8th classification round, New Zealand routed Pakistan 4-2 to take the seventh. Belgium finished ninth by blanking Canada 3-0.

(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2008)

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