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China Daily Website

Chinese men take Swaythling Cup

YANG XINWEI ( China Daily )

China's Ma Lin raises his fist after defeating Jean-Michel Saive of Belguim during the men's team final at the World Table Tennis Championships in Osaka, Japan yesterday. Ma beat Saive 2-1, and China beat Belgium 3-0 to take the gold. [ Reuters ]

OSAKA, Japan: The Chinese men's team re-captured the Swaythling Cup, the coveted table tennis team title, here yesterday at the 46th World Table Tennis Championships at the Osaka Central Gymnasium.

It was China's 13th team title at the championships. They lost to Sweden in the 2000 championships. But it was not their long-standing rivals Sweden they took the cup from. Instead they beat Belgium, who conquered the Swedes in the semifinals, in three straight matches.

It was the first final appearance for the Belgium team who are coached by Chinese national Wang Dayong, who sang along to the Chinese anthem with the Chinese team at the award ceremony.

Top Belgian player Jean-Michel Saive started the final with a 21-18 first-game win over world No 3 Ma Lin. But last year's World Cup winner Ma easily won the second game 21-7. Down 13-15 in the third game, China's coach Cai Zhenhua called a timeout and Ma scored eight straight points to start a Chinese sweep.

Saturday's semi-final hero over South Korea, Liu Guozheng, claimed the second match 21-18, 21-17 over Philippe Saive. Liu's determination in the fifth match against the Koreans on Saturday saved him seven match points and ensured China's final appearance.

Olympic champion and world No 2 Kong Linghui defeated Martin Bratanov 21-18 and 21-19 to complete the Chinese rout.

While the Chinese players, coaches and officials jumped, hugged and wept for joy on Saturday, they kept cool yesterday after the two-hour victory.

"We are stronger than the Belgians in both skills and psychological experience in major world events," said head coach Cai. "So the competition was a little easier than Saturday's semi-final against South Korea."

Belgian coach Wang Dayong said: "The result was normal for China and Belgium. The Chinese are much stronger than the Belgians. It is great that Belgium reached the final."

Jean-Michel Saive praised China's outstanding semi-final win over South Korea as "fantastic."

On Saturday in an edge-of-the-seat semi-final match between China and South Korea, China's Liu Guozheng became the pride of the nation for his determination and valuable victory over South Korean No 1 Kim Taek-soo. Liu saved seven match points in the last two games of the fifth and final match before beating Kim to give the Chinese a 3-2 victory.

Kim won the first game 21-16, and had three match points in the second game but failed to capitalize and allowed the Chinese to catch up and eventually win 24-22.

The third and final game was neck and neck until 15-15 when Kim pulled away 19-15. But a determined Liu fought his way back and levelled the score at 19 all. Kim took the next point but Liu caught up yet again.

The next three times the Korean held match point the Chinese ace managed to match him again. And when Liu finally earned his first match point, he made sure it counted and punished the Korean for his wasted chances, winning 25-23.

Liu had earlier given China the lead after defeating Oh Sang-eun 21-12 and 21-18 in the first match but world No 2 Kong Linghui did the unthinkable by losing to Kim Taek-soo 21-16 and 21-17. Ma Lin justified his selection in the third match by beating young Ryu Seung-min, but Kong lost again to Oh in the fourth match to bring out Liu.

Li Furong, vice-president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, described the Liu-Kim match as unprecedented and stated that it would not happen again in the near future. "The match today was won by the team with the highest mental strength. Of course I rate Liu as the best and he is the pride of China," said Li, former world champion.

Head coach Cai Zhenhua described the match as the most intense and heart-stopping match ever experienced in his 11-year coaching career.

For Liu, the match was just another competition that needed to be won.

"Of course there was pressure on me. But Kim also had the same pressure on him. This is a team event and of course when it comes down to the last set tension will be high."

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