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Favorable draw lifts hopes for golden repeat
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A favorable draw allowed China's women's volleyball team to avoid powerhouses like Brazil, Italy and Russia in the group stage, giving its chances of defending its Olympic title a boost.

The Olympic host was drawn into Pool A, which also includes NORCECA champion Cuba, World Cup bronze medalist the US, South American champion Venezuela, Japan and Poland. Pool B consists of World Cup silver medalist Brazil, World Cup winner Italy, Athens Olympic silver winner Russia, African champion Algeria, Serbia and Kazakhstan.

China's head coach Chen Zhonghe downplayed excitement about the draw, saying he cares more about the knockout stage.

"I am not concerned about whether it is a good or a bad draw," Chen said. "Group competition is just the start and the real test comes in the knockout stage."

Team manager Li Quanqiang echoed Chen's remarks and said group matches are insignificant compared with China's quest to defend its gold.

"Volleyball's group matches are different from that of soccer and basketball," Li said.

After round-robin group competitions, the top four teams in each group will advance to the knockout stage.

"Brazil, Italy, Russia and Serbia are all very tough rivals. I do not think it makes much difference if we finish the group on top or in the middle," Li said.

Russia, the 2006 world champion, looks like the team to beat this summer, as it is still playing at a very high level. China finished seventh at the Worlds.

Italy will also be a major obstacle to the Olympic host if they meet in the knockout round. Italy has defeated China five times and lost only twice after Athens Games.

But both Chen and Li said that their main focus is on the group matches and to guarantee the team's form is good enough to make it to the next round.

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