The Chinese women rallied to defeat Italy 3-2 (18-25, 25-20, 21-25, 27-25, 15-8) on Sunday in Hong Kong in week two of the FIVB World Grand Prix 2008 to continue their status as the only team to remain undefeated in the tournament.
Italy opened the first set with a 2-0 lead but a kill by middle blocker Xue and a fast attack by Zhao Ruirui helped the Chinese even the score. The Italian women would regain the lead, bringing the score to 8-6 at the first technical time out before spiker Zhou Suhong's ace and a powerful attack by Zhao would tie the score again. The experienced Italian team then changed their tactics to gain a 19-15 lead, causing China to send in a replacement for setter Feng Kun. The Chinese were unable to withstand powerful attacks from Italians Francesca Piccinini and Taismary Aguero, however, and finally lost the set 18-25.
In set two, an error on wing spiker Wang Yimei's part gave the Italian women a point at the start. A 2-2 tie went to 7-7 after an exchange of points before the Italians gained a one-point lead at the first technical time-out, when a block by the Chinese went out of bounds. Strong offensive play by Zhao and Wang helped turn the lead around afterwards, but the opposing team would regain the lead 16-15 at the second technical time out. China managed to take the lead again with consecutive points by Zhou and Feng, and mistakes by the Italians, who appeared shaken up, would help China take the set 25-20.
A focused Chinese team took a 5-2 lead at the start of the third set but an error by Wang would cost them two points, encouraging the Italians to attack and reverse the lead to 8-6 in their favor. But replacement wing spiker Li Juan later helped China regain their lead and caused the Italians to shake under mounting pressure. Although the Chinese took advantage of several opportunities on defense, the Italian women still managed to take the set 25-21.
In the fourth set, consecutive aces by Wang would give the Chinese a 2-0 lead at the start. They held on to their lead with strong offensive play by Li and Zhou, bringing the score to 6-2 at the first time-out. Afterwards an exchange of points would bring the score to an 11-11 tie. China scored four straight points on its way to a 16-13 lead at the second technical time out, causing the Italians to go on a hunt for points to later even the score at 21. The back-and-forth continued to a 25-25 tie before an attack by the Italians went out of bounds, ending the match 27-25 in China's favor. The match stood at 2-2.
Italy opened the fifth set by losing a point on service, giving China a lead that would widen to 7-2 at the first time-out. Despite a hard effort by the Italians, the Chinese strengthened their offense to force match point at 14-8, and a double block by Xue and Zhou put the game away.
China will meet Japan on July 4 in Macau to defend their winning streak.
Chinese Wang Yimei (L) smashes the ball (Photo credit: Xinhua)
(BOCOG June 30, 2008)