Thu, 18 Aug 1994

Chinese cautious of Brazil's challenge

JAKARTA (JP): Chinese spikers rated Brazil their toughest competition in the first leg of the world women's volleyball grand prix championship which starts here tomorrow.

With 11 world-class players in tow, the Chinese team arrived here on Tuesday for the four-team competition as the red-hot favorite.

Led by Sun Huijuan who captioned the team in the last two Olympic Games, China will play round-robin matches against Brazil, the Netherlands and Peru during the three-day event.

China, runner-up to Olympic gold medalist Cuba last year, however, remains wary of former world champion Brazil. "They are truly favorites, but we will battle it out to overcome them," said coach Li Xiao Fang upon arriving at Soekarno-Hatta airport.

The Chinese team underwent a month of rigorous training prior to the tournament which will be staged at the 10,000-seat Senayan indoor stadium. China and Brazil have split their last four encounters.

China takes on Peru in tomorrow evening's opener while Brazil is tipped to meet former European champion the Netherlands. Tickets are going fast at between Rp 5,000 (US$2.30) and Rp 150,000.

Representing Asia as well are Japan and South Korea. The world grand prix circuit also includes the top nine teams from Europe, North and South America. The teams are divided into three groups which play in three different locations simultaneously.

Cuba, Japan, Russia and Chinese Taipei will play in Taipei, while South Korea hosts Germany, Italy and the United States in Seoul.

The second leg will be held in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok at the end of this month, before moving to Fukuoka in Japan, Guangzhou in China and Manila a week later.

Four teams will qualify for the finals in Shanghai, China on Sept. 9-11. As host, China is an automatic qualifier.

The three-round competitions, recommended by the world volleyball body (FIVB), offer a total of US$1.5 million in cold hard cash.

Cuba held a perfect 5-0 record en route to winning last year's series in Osaka, Japan. China finished second ahead of Russia. (amd)