November 13, 2003, Osaka, Japan - China were primed for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens when on Thursday they scored their ninth win at the World Cup of Women's Volleyball by defeating the USA in a tense tiebreaker. With two matches to go, they are the only undefeated team and the top three are automatic qualifiers for Athens 2004.
"Although we had prepared well, the match was very hard and tough. When the set score was 1 - 2 we had really hard time, but managed to go through the difficult situation to the last set. The USA team was good at defence," Chen Zhonghe, head coach of China commented after the match.
But while China succeeded in downing their toughest opponent, Japan went down fighting to Brazil in a match where the 3-0 score line did not really reflect the courageous fight of the host team who has earned respect and admiration at this tournament.
While caught napping at crucial moments, Japan held their own, and their share of the lead and even held a commanding 8-point lead in the third set.
Brazil now moves into second place on the table behind China, while Japan's chances of qualifying now that they have a 6-3 win-loss match ratio, has diminished.
The day also brought surprises. World Champions Italy, who had been running hot with a 7-1 win-loss ratio was humbled by Cuba in the day's opener in the Site A Namihaya Dome in Osaka, a result that shocked the Blues and caused a ripple effect for possible Olympic qualification. If Italy now misses their ticket and has to contest other qualifiers, it will diminish the chances of some other European teams hoping to be present in Athens.
Cuban captain Yumilka Ruiz was joined by Yaima Ortiz and Zoila Barros in leading Cuba to a superb win, their sixth of the tournament from nine matches to keep their hopes of qualification alive.
"We were not able to play the game in the same level as the other days and the Cuban team was very concentrated on the match," said Italian coach Marco Bonitta.
Meanwhile at Site B, being played also in Osaka, a series of straight set matches resulted in Poland, Korea and Turkey improving their win-loss ratios against Dominican Republic, Argentina and Egypt, but failing to move into contention. Egypt played their best set of the tournament against Turkey, scoring 20 points.