Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 23 News List

Japan women issue table tennis challenge to China


Japan's women powered into the semi-finals of the world team table tennis championships yesterday and immediately issued a challenge to all-conquering China.

Japan, determined to finish higher than their third at the last worlds, thumped Hungary 3-0 to set up a semi-final showdown with Singapore, who earlier secured their spot in dramatic fashion.

"We decided that the theme for our team is the undefeatable spirit and that's how we want to continue here," 19-year-old sensation Ai Fukuhara said.

Teammate Sayaka Hirano said Japan were gaining in confidence as the worlds progressed, although she conceded that they would need an extra dose of aggression against Singapore.

Singapore earlier downed the Netherlands after the Europeans, 2-0 down in their quarter-final, were forced to halt the third match when Li Jie hurt her ankle in the opening game.

"Although I'm pleased that we won, I feel very sorry for the Netherlands, who knows what might have happened if they kept playing," said Singapore's Wang Yue Gu, who was leading 5-3 when play stopped.

Hong Kong, second at the last two worlds, are also into the semis after grinding down Austria in marathon matches lasting almost three hours, to eventually wrap up the clash 3-2.

Hong Kong are expected to meet China in the semis.

China's equally fearsome men whitewashed Italy 3-0 to reach the quarters, as they stepped up their campaign for a fourth straight team title.

Italy took just one game off China, boasting the world's top players who are using the worlds as the perfect warm-up for the Beijing Olympics where nothing short of total dominance is expected.

Japan also continued their scintillating form, downing Serbia 3-0 to finish top of their group and also automatically qualify for the quarters.

South Korea, gunning for their first team title, are also in, but were made to suffer anxious moments against a gritty Hungary, before prevailing 3-1.

Hong Kong secured a spot after fighting through a 3-2 thriller against Belarus, relegating Singapore to second in their group.

Taiwan beat the Czech Republic 3-0 to rack up their fourth win and advance to the playoffs.

Powerhouse Germany suffered a double setback as they attempt to reach the finals. The third seeds were dumped 3-1 by minnows Slovakia, with Bastian Steger injuring a hamstring in his clash, forcing Germany to abandon his match.

Additional reporting by staff writer

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