Suphan Buri, Thailand, September 12, 2003 - Three continental champions - Poland, China, Brazil and in-form the Netherlands cruised their ways into the semifinals of the Women's U20 World Volleyball Championship after blunting their respective rivals' sturdy challenges on Friday.
Asian champions China struggled hard to beat tall and towering Russia in a hard-fought five-set thriller 25-19 17-25 19-25 25-20 15-9, while Poland wedged out Germany 3-1 (25-22 25-18 21-25 25-17).
Defending three-time world champions Brazil set the yellow and green supporters alight with some truly magical spells of Volleyball in their four set win over Belarus, who are making their debut appearance at the World Championship. The South American champions powered through the game 25-17 25-16 26-28 25-22 and undefeated the Netherlands marched on in their promising run by brushing past Ukraine in four sets (25-20 20-25 25-22 17-25 15-11).
Against the fired-up Russians, determined China made a flying start to lead 10-6 in the opening set, thanks to spectacular spikes from Yang Shuang and Wang Ting. To the Russians' amazement, the Chinese claimed the entertaining first set 25-19.
Conceding one set, Russia regrouped to launch their assaults. With the 202cm-tall Ioulia Merkoulova exploiting her height advantage to spike devastatingly at the net, the Russians demonstrated a wealth of technical expertise and experience to steal the show in the second and third sets which they won 25-17 and 25-19.
Cheered on lustily by local enthusiasts at the Silapa-archa Gymnasium, the Chinese girls looked extremely strong in the fourth set with the likes of Lu Yan, who led the team with 53 points including 46 kills and three solid blocks, and powerful Wang Yi Mei, who always amazed the Russians with her deadly cross-court spikes. China took the hard-fought set 25-20.
In the do-or-die tie-breaker, the Chinese girls, whose squad has targeted the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, still had their run to perfection in what promised to be one of the biggest and most exciting sets. They spiked, set and served, playing every part of the game well. China eventually captured the set 15-9 and a semi-final berth.
Chinese head coach Cai Bin said "I am happy that the girls did their best in desperate situations," he said. "I hope to continue seeing us win and with China being the only Asian team in contention, I believe the Thai crowd will cheer us on and our goal to make the final could be within reach."
The Netherlands' head coach Saskia Van Hintum confessed that her team has never taken on an Asian team before. Therefore, playing China in the semi-finals could be an uphill task. However, she said that she is upbeat that her team will try their best in the match.
In Saturday's semi-finals, Poland challenge Brazil in a revenge match, while
China go up against the Netherlands. In the 5th-8th classification round,
Germany face Belarus and Russia take on Ukraine.