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China, Bulgaria, Dominican Republic join Cuba in semis

Ningbo, Southeast China, May 26, 2005 - China and Bulgaria in Group A and the Dominican Republic of Group B joined Cuba in the semi-finals of the Shenzhou Cup China International Women's Volleyball Tournament on the last day of the preliminary round here on Thursday.

Olympic and World Cup winners China beat Poland 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-16, 25-17) for their third straight win to finish on top of Group A ahead of Bulgaria, who finished with two wins and a loss after beating the Netherlands in straight sets 25-21, 25-18, 25-19. In the other match on Thursday, the Dominican Republic squandered a 2-0 lead before clinching a victory against Japan 3-2 (15-12 in the tiebreak) and a semifinal fixture against China.
Pic: China's Chu Jinling(No 5), Ma Yuwen(No15),Liu Yanan(No 4), Zhou Suhong(No 7) and Wang Yimei celebrate
In the match between China and Poland, Chu Jining, who replaced Olympic gold medalist Wang Li'na in the starting line-up, was in great form in the first set. Her crisp spikes from the wings caused a lot of trouble for the Polish defense. At 17-17, Chu completed three kills to lead China on a 5-1 run that gave the hosts a comfortable advantage at 22-18. Then 19-year-old Ma Yunwen, a new member in the Chinese team, sealed the set 25-20 with a smash.

Poland fought back strongly in the second set, racing to a 6-2 lead on the back of some high quality serves from Izabela Belcik before China steadily clawed their way back to 17-16. But the Chinese made too many mistakes and Poland, reaping 11 points from China's errors in total, clinched the second set. The hosts improved their overall performance to seal the third set before Chinese coach Chen Zhonghe rested most of his starters and gave his younger players an opportunitiy to play late in the fourth set.

"We played very well in the first two sets but we lost our concentration in the last two sets and struggled in all technical elements," Izabela Belcik of Poland said.

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic pulled away from a 6-all tie in their tiebreaker with Japan to lead 9-6 before eventually holding on for victory.

"It's a tough game, Japan is a great team," said Dominican Republic head coach Francisco Jimenez. "They are very strong mentality and I respect the way they played."

The Dominican Republic finished second in Group B of the preliminaries with one win and one loss. In the semi-finals, they will play Group A winner China while Cuba and Bulgaria will clash for the other ticket to the final. The Japanese team, who lost both games in Group B, head into the 5th-7th deciders.