Sunday, September 28, 2003

ABC Day 6 – Taiwan lost to Jordan, will play for 11th

Taiwan lost to Jordan 72-83 today as they finished 2-1 in the second round group in the Asian Championship. Taiwan will meet Kuwait in the 11th-place game. And no matter what the outcome may be, this is going to be Taiwan’s worst outing in the Asian Championship history.

Taiwan trailed thru the whole game, once again dominated by Jordanians in the paint. They pulled down 22 less rebounds (19:37) and had 22 less tries (3:25) on the free-throw line than its opponent, which was totally unacceptable.

Tien Lei led the team with 18 points and 6 boards. Tsun Wen-din had 12 points. Chen Chih-chung and Yen Shin-shu added 12 and 11 respectively.

Y.A. Baker led Jordan, which will meet Syria in the 9th-place game, with 23 points. Z.A. Khas had 20 points and 14 rebounds. H. Abshir had 18.

Other results
Korea 99-88 Kazakhstan
China 88-60 Japan
Qatar 72-64 Iran
Lebanon 117-82 India

Uzbekistan 98-76 Malaysia
Hong Kong 79-77 Kuwait
Syria 95-77 Philippines

Second Round Standings
Group I: Korea 3-0 ; Qatar 2-1 ; Iran 1-2 ; Kazakhstan 0-3
Group II: China 3-0 ; Lebanon 2-1 ; Japan 1-2 ; India 0-3
Group III: Jordan 3-0 ; Taiwan 2-1 ; Uzbekistan 1-2 ; Malaysia 0-3
Group IV: Syria 2-1 ; Kuwait 2-1 ; Hong Kong 2-1 ; Philippines 0-3

Upcoming Matchup
Semifinal #1: China vs. Qatar
Semifinal #2: Korea vs. Lebanon
5/6th place: Japan vs. Iran
7/8th place: Kazakhstan vs. India
9/10th place: Jordan vs. Syria
11/12th place: Taiwan vs. Kuwait
13/14th place: Uzbekistan vs. Hong Kong
15/16th place: Malaysia vs. Philippines

Saturday, September 27, 2003

ABC Day 5 – Tien Lei leads Taiwan past Uzbekistan

Tien Lei had 22 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks and led Taiwan to a 115-74 victory over Uzbekistan in the second round of the Asian Championship today. With two wins in hand, Taiwan is looking to a 3-0 record in the second round, which will clinch their spot in the 9th-place game.

Taiwanese players obviously were more loosened up after the disappointing preliminary round. Taiwan NT dominated the tempo in each period, leading 59-32 in halftime, and won by more than 35 points for the second consecutive game. They beat Malaysia 101-63 in the previous game.

Taiwan used its three-point attack to open up the game. Tien Lei made 6-of-10 three-pointers. Lin Chi-jay made 5 out of 10 en route to his 18 points. Chen Chih-chung had 14 points and 4 assists. Chiu Chi-yi and Tsun Wen-din each had 12, while Lee Chi-yi had 11.

S. Kvchin and H. Nurajyev paced Uzbekistan with 18 points each.

Today’s other results so far: Jordan beat Malaysia 69-58, Syria beat Hong Kong 109-77.

Friday, September 26, 2003

ABC Day 4 – Taiwan routed Malaysia

Finally you could see some smiles on Taiwanese players’ faces. Lin Chi-jay had 24 points to power Taiwan past Malaysia 101-63 in the first game of the second round, where Taiwan is placed in the same group with Jordan, Malaysia and Uzbekistan.

Every game in the second round matters for Taiwan NT. If they finish 3-0, they will have a chance to go for 9th-place with the winner of the other group. With every loss, their final ranking will be lower.

Already knocked out of the final eight, Taiwan NT was highly motivated facing the weaker Malaysia. Lin Chi-jay made 6-of-11 three-point tries. Tien Lei came away with 20 points and 9 boards, while Chiu Chi-yi had 16 points and 4 assists.

For the first time in the tournament Taiwan outrebounded its opponent, leading 39-20 on rebounding with 17 coming from the offensive end.

However, this is expected to be the easiest game for them. The next two opponents will be Uzbekistan and Jordan.

Today’s biggest surprise is definitely Hong Kong upsetting Philippines. Forward Tam Wei Yeung led Hong Kong with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Second Round Brackets
Group I: Kazakhstan, Korea, Iran, Qatar
Group II: Lebanon, India, China, Japan
Group III: Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Jordan
Group IV: Hong Kong, Kuwait, Syria, Philippines

Other results
China 117-62 India
Korea 105-81 Iran
Lebanon 76-63 Japan
Qatar 83-61 Kazakhstan

Jordan 86-83 Uzbekistan
Hong Kong 66-58 Philippines
Kuwait 80-75 Syria

Thursday, September 25, 2003

ABC Day 3 – Taiwan beat Syria in a meaningless game

Combo guard combination Yen Shin-shu exploded for 28 points and Chen Chih-chung scored 17 as Taiwan beat Syria 94-84 today for the first win in the Asian Championship today. However, the victory doesn’t mean anything, since Taiwan is out of the final eight after two losses.

In the final preliminary game, Taiwan NT finally sees some light. Yen Shin-shu (12-17 FG) tallied 21 points in the first half, Chen Chih-chung (6-9 FG) took over in the second half, when he scored 15 of his 17 points and helped Taiwan to bounce back from the 50-51 halftime deficit and changed the momentum in the last 20 minutes.

Wu Dai-hao had 16 points and 7 rebounds for the Taiwanese, while Tien Lei turned in an outstanding game with his 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals.

M. Madanli led Iran with 22 points. M. Lmam followed with 20 points and 9 boards.

Local fans are very disappointed with the performance once again. Taiwanese media isn’t hesitant to blast the basketball association either. Several columnists expressed their disgust for the highest basketball governing body today.

Other Results:
Kazakhstan 86-82 Hong Kong
Lebanon 88-60 Uzbekistan
China 93-69 Iran
Qatar 68-47 Japan
Philippines 83-67 Jordan
Kuwait 86-81 Malaysia
Korea 121-76 India

Group Standings (Top two advance to the quarterfinals)
Group A: Lebanon 3-0, Kazakhstan 2-1, Uzbekistan 1-2, Hong Kong 0-3
Group B: Korea 3-0, India 2-1, Kuwait 1-2, Malaysia 0-3
Group C: China 3-0, Iran 2-1, Taiwan 1-2, Syria 0-3
Group D: Qatar 3-0, Japan 2-1, Philippines 1-2, Jordan 0-3

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

ABC Day 2 – Another humiliating loss for Taiwan

Taiwan was officially out of the quarterfinal today as they suffered another blow, losing to China 61-121 in the Asian Championship. The 60-point margin marks the biggest defeat in the head-to-head history for both sides.

With Iran defeating Syria, the Group C winners are set. China and Iran will advance to the second round. The best finish for Taiwan NT will be 9th-place, the lowest in history.

The game is a no-match. China is too strong for Taiwan NT to handle. Just check the quarter score: 28-16, 30-12, 29-9, 34-24. However, the performance of Taiwan NT is still disappointing. It seems every time they face the Chinese, they give up the game from the first minute.

Yao Ming had 29 points (13-16 FG) and 13 rebounds in less than 21 minutes. Li Nan had 11. Li Ke, Sun Jun and Zhu Fang-yu scored 10 apiece.

Taiwan was led by Tsun Wen-din’s 10 points. Lin Chi-jay and Yang Che-yi both had 9 points. Yen Shin-shu had 7 points and 4 assists. Tien Lei only managed to score 7 points.

Other results:
Lebanon 90-67 Hong Kong
Kazakhstan 86-66 Uzbekistan
Iran 82-67 Syria
Qatar 77-69 Philippines
Japan 63-59 Jordan
India 81-62 Malaysia
Korea 95-71 Kuwait

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

ABC Day 1 – Taiwan humbled by Iran

Taiwan’s dream of making to the final eight in the Asian Championship takes a big blow in the first day, when they lost to Iran 74-83. With China and Syria the remaining opponents in the preliminaries, Taiwan’s chance of making the quarterfinal is approximately to zero.

Taiwan NT again and again failed to keep Iran off the backboard, trailing by a humiliating 20-44 on the boards. Iran used its ferocious inside attack and led almost the entire game. The halftime score was 38-34, Iran.

Tien Lei led Taiwan with 20 points (5-12 3PT). Yang Che-yi had 13 on 5-for-7 shooting. Chiu Chi-yi and Lin Chi-jay had 7 points each. Ironically, Yang, Chiu and Lin all didn’t start. That tells you how the starters did in the game. Yen Shin-shu dished for 6 assists though.

Karam Ahmadian and Iman Zandi had 17 each for the Iranians. Mohammad Samad Nikkh had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Taiwan will face China, which routed Syria 103-51 today, in the second game tomorrow.

Other results:
Uzbekistan 68-64 Hong Kong (M. Shaffnkov 19, V. Beloklirov 19 ; Poon Chi Ho 11, Li Wai Lun 11)
Lebanon 79-70 Kazakhstan (Joe Vogel 30+12, G. Rida 18 ; Y. Issakov 16, S. Vdovin 13+10, A. Yemelyanov 9+15)
India 94-74 Kuwait (S. Robinson 21+18, Desraj 26 ; O. Moubarak 17, H. Babroun 18)
China 103-51 Syria (Zhu Fangyu 19, Yao Ming 18+12 ; Michel Madanli 17)
Qatar 66-53 Jordan (Daoud Mousa 17, Yasseen Ismail 16 ; Zaid Al Kahs 12+12)
Japan 66-64 Philippines (M. Takahashi 24)

Monday, September 22, 2003

Asian Championship Preview: Back against the wall

Latest news: Taiwan NT set its final 12-man roster after cutting SG Yang Yu-ming (thigh injury), SG Hong Chi-chao and F Wu Chih-yuan.

No doubt about it. Taiwan NT is staring down at the potential all-time worst finish in the Asian Championship, which starts tomorrow in Harbin, China.

Since superpower China is placed in Group C, the group winner is set. If Taiwan NT fails to beat BOTH Iran and Syria, it is out of the quarterfinal. That means: 1) It will not finish higher than No.9 in the tournament. 2) It will break the all-time worst record for Taiwan NT in the Asian Championship. The current record is 7th-place, set in the previous tournament (2001, Shanghai).

Entering the third year of “Rebuilding” and “Youth Movement”, Taiwan NT still features one of the youngest lineups in Asia. They are quick, physically-talented but inexperienced. They excel in open court but somehow I think that also means lack of half-court discipline. They love to launch three-pointers but the accuracy is up-and-down.

One of the greatest weaknesses of the team is fear for banging, which is going to bring them a lot of trouble in the preliminaries when they have to face three bully opponents (China, Syria and Iran).

▓Positioanl Analysis

Point Guard
With Yen Shin-shu and Chen Chih-chung handling the point, this is the most reliable position on the team. Yen excels in open court. His court vision and passing is one of the best in Asia. And his shooting is highly underrated. Chen Chih-chung is more of a traditional PG who makes few turnovers. It’s possible that head coach Lee Chin-chi put Yen and Chen in the same backcourt.

NT rookie Chen Huei will be the back-up. He is a strong player who can take defender in the paint.

Shooting Guard
Cutting Yang Yu-ming and Hong Chi-chao definitely hurts. Chiu Chi-yi becomes the only full-time SG left. Without Yang, the most explosive scorer in recent years, Taiwan NT’s outside shooting is down a notch.

Either Wu Chih-wei or Tsun Wen-din will get the nod at the starting center. If you’re looking for experience and the high-post passing, Wu is the man. If you’re looking for the overall speed and help-side defense, the younger Tsun will be the choice. Anyway, neither is good at banging inside.

18-year-old phenom Wu Dai-hao will see time between C and PF. With his 7-1 wingspan, athleticism and better offensive game, if he puts his mind into it and gets enough court time, this tournament will probably be his coming-out party.

Power Forward
Other than Wu Dai-hao, Lee Chi-yi will be the only player at the 4 spot. Lee’s game is somewhat weird. He is not quick, strong or particularly tall (198cm), but he is effective on the court. He can take shorter defender underneath, hit the offensive board out of nowhere. And he can hit the 3s.

Small Forward
The most crowded position on the team. Tien Lei will start, with Ho Sho-jen, Lin Chi-jay and Yang Che-yi backing up. Lin and Yang will also probably see time in SG.

Tien Lei is the Kevin Garnett-type big man. He is very quick for his height. The ultra-quick second-jump makes him one of the most dangerous offensive rebounders. At the same time, he can hit the threes and run the court. However observers think he should develop his back-to-the-basket game and rely less on long-range jumpers. And he has to learn to love banging inside.

Ho Sho-jen isn’t afraid of mixing it up inside. In fact, he has the best footwork on the team. But he is a little bit short (195cm) and, for the past three years, only viewed as the second-string player in NT play, which is a pity.

In his NT debut, Lin Chi-jay will have the chance to be the go-to guy in crunch time with his strong body and one-on-one skills. At 190cm tall, he is the closest thing to a Power-SF or power-SG. He can rebound, pass and shoot. He knows how to slice inside, take the pounding from defenders and still finish. Like Cheng Kwon-suk, the former South Korean coach who coached Taiwan Junior NT, said, Lin is a “diamond in the rust”.

Yang Che-yi, another NT rookie, is the most improved player in the past year. He is good at moving without the ball and hit the break. His shooting is also more consistent.

Pray for a miracle. Like I said, Taiwan NT needs two perfect games in Harbin. Unless they play a flawless zone-defense, hit every uncontested jump shot, fight for every rebound, it will not be easy for them to beat Iran and Syria.

However, in the downtime of Taiwanese basketball, the expectation is not high. All everyone hopes to see is a team that fights for 40 minutes. Everyone is still going to support for the national team.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Dispute over Wu Dai-hao transfer

18-year-old NT member Wu Dai-hao, who is in Harbin, China, for the upcoming Asian Championship, shocked the basketball community when his parents confirmed Wu will transfer from Dacin Construction to Jutai Tech. Wu’s transfer raises dispute over the transfer rule of Taiwanese basketball players.

Wu’s parents said in the telephone interview that Wu has not been happy playing for Dacin. And there are many reasons leading to his unhappiness, including salary and failed promises. Dacin promised to help Wu play in the NCAA before signing him. But, Wu’s parents said, Dacin hasn’t been doing anything.

Also because of Dacin’s carelessness, Wu didn’t attend NTNU (National Taiwan Normal University), the university he wanted all along. Instead, he settled for choosing the TPEC (Taipei Physical Education College).

Wu and his parents assumed that they could sign with other teams directly, since almost all Taiwanese teams don’t actually sign players to a contract. But Dacin just wouldn’t let go, claiming Wu is still under labor contract with the team. Jutai Tech management claimed Dacin doesn’t have any reason to keep Wu.

As far as I’m concerned, here’s the problem. The relationship between players and teams is more like an oral commitment in Taiwan. And the basketball association doesn’t have any rule regulating players transfer. In the past, player movement usually happened when both teams agree with the transfer.

That’s why there’s always a dispute when a big-time player transfers. You don’t have contract and transfer rules to start with. And that leads to the endless argument. CTBA needs to review and complete all the regulations to prevent same incidents happening over and over again.

At this moment, the dispute is still going on. I would assume that, eventually, Dacin will let Wu go.

Super League player registration completed

Seven teams that will enter the inaugural Super League completed payer registrations yesterday (Sep. 19), as there are over 20 player transfers. The complete player rosters will be posted on later.

Under the Super League format, Military team is dismissed. That means players who are serving two-year military obligation get to play for their original teams.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Taiwan needs two perfect games in Harbin

As Taiwan NT headed for Cebu, Philippines for the final warmup games Thursday, they were physically tired from the extensive training in the past six months that took them to Oregon, Sacramento and Philippines – and within two week, Harbin China.

But I would say they are mentally upbeat about the upcoming Asian Championship. Following the disappointing performance in the past two years (7th in the previous Asian Championship, 7th in 2002 Jones Cup and 7th in the Asian Games), thisi s a good chance for a sweet redemption.

The road will not be easy though. They are once again without top gun Chen Hsin-an, who’s in the middle of CTBA’s one-year suspension in NT play. And they need two perfect games in Harbin to advance to the second round, which means they have to beat both Iran and Syria in group play.

Traditionally, Taiwan NT did not match up well with teams from West Asia. They had trouble containing the more physical, stronger inside play of West Asian teams like Iran and Syria. They are always at a disadvantage in international competition because of smaller size.

Coincidentally, all three opponents in the group play – China, Iran and Syria – have good size inside.

Taiwan NT features a stable and reliable backcourt combination in PG Chen Chih-chung, Yen Shin-shu, SG Yang Yu-ming, Chiu Chi-yi and Hong Chi-chao. They should be able to do just fine, although the perimeter shooting is still shaky.

That leaves the big men with something to prove. Will Tien Lei develop an inside-outside game and becomes one of the most versatile SF in Asia? Are skinny centers Tsun Wen-din and Wu Dai-hao now stronger to face opposition? Will veteran Wu Chih-wei motivate himself to play hard every minute?

Latest on Taiwan NT

Taiwan NT head coach Lee Chin-chi will take all 15 players to Harbin, China and submit the final roster before the competition starts. The team is without any major injury right now, although guards Yang Yu-ming and Chiu-chi-yi are hurt. Both are expected to be able to play in Harbin. Lee Chin-chi also has not made up his mind on the starting lineup.

Tsun Wen-din 204cm 90kg
Wu Dai-hao 202cm 100kg
Wu Chih-wei 202cm 94kg

Tien Lei 202cm 86kg
Wu Chih-yuan 200cm 77kg
Lee Chi-yi 198cm 88kg
Lin Chih-jay 192cm 88kg
Ho Sho-jen 195cm 88kg
Yang Che-yi 193cm 85kg

Chen Chih-chung 182cm 80kg
Yen Shin-shu 183cm 75kg
Yang Yu-ming 180cm 73kg
Hong Chi-chao 187cm 78kg
Chiu Chi-yi 180cm 78kg
Chen Huei 185cm 85kg

Yang Yu-ming – Sprained ligament(thigh)
Chiu Chi-yi – Sprained ankle

Monday, September 08, 2003

Taiwan NT Pre-Asian Championships Primer

15-man NT roster (Po. Name Ht./Wt. DOB Age Team)
C Tsun Wen-din 204/90 1984/7/6 19 Yulon
C Wu Chih-wei 202/94 1976/7/31 26 Yulon
G Chen Chih-chung 182/80 1977/3/2 26 Yulon
G Hong Chi-chao 187/78 1982/2/13 21 Yulon#
G Yen Hsin-shu 183/75 1976/9/8 26 BCC Mars
F Lee Chi-yi 198/88 1978/10/27 24 BCC Mars
G Chen Huei 185/85 1978/4/17 25 BCC Mars#
F/G Yang Che-yi 193/85 1976/10/2 26 BCC Mars#
G Yang Yu-ming 180/73 1979/10/22 23 Jutai Tech
C/F Wu Chih-yuan 200/77 1983/10/24 19 Taiwan Beer#
F Lin Chi-jay 192/88 1982/6/11 20 Taiwan Beer
F Tien Lei 202/86 1983/6/1 20 Dacin Construction
C Wu Dai-hao 202/100 1985/2/7 18 Dacin Construction
G Chiu Chi-yi 180/78 1975/10/6 27 Military
F Ho Sho-jen 195/88 1983/2/15 20 Bank of Taiwan

Head coach: Lee Chin-chi(Military)
Assistant coach: Chou Hai-jun(Mars)

Average Height: 192.3 Age: 22.6
# - First appearance in senior men's NT

Taiwan NT Training Program
June 1 Training camp opened at Songshan HS Gymnasium.

June 1-22 Training camp first stage.

June 23-July 7 Warmup tour at United States Basketball Academy(USBA), Oregon, USA. They were tutored by a couple U.S. coaches like Jim Harrick and Bob Hill and playeda couple of friendlies with USBA All-Stars.

July 7-16 Seven selected players were trained by Sacramento Kings counselor Pete Carril and Kings assistant(current Milwaukee Bucks coach) Terry Porter.

July 17-August 5 Training camp second stage. Played three warmup games with WUG squad and won them all.

August 6-16 Warmup tour in Philippines, where they met teams from PBA, NBL and the Philippines senior and junior NT. Record: 3 wins, two ties and 1 loss.

August 17-September 10 Training camp third stage(in Kaohsiung and Taipei).

September 11-17 Warmup tour in Philippines. Will play in the National Open. The tournament features six teams, including NBL champion M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu, NBL all-star team Burlington All-Stars, and four national teams -- Jordan, Qatar, Philippines and Taiwan.

September 23-October 2 22nd Asian Championships at Harbin, China.

Star players
Tien Lei: A 6-7 versatile small forward who can play inside and outside. Tremendous second leap, perimeter skills and wingspan. Needs to develop more inside skills though.

Wu Dai-hao: The incoming college freshman features a 7-1 wingspan although he’s only 6-8. Most promising big man Taiwan has ever had. Sky is the limit for him.

Yen Hsin-shu: The No.1 PG in the nation who excels in open-court style of play. Great court vision and passing ability. His outside shooting is highly underrated. Coming off a severe knee injury and operation.

Asian Championships Preview
For local fans, Taiwan NT has been disappointing in the past two years. The basketball association opted to build the national team with all younger kids instead of bring them along with veterans. The decision pays its price.

Taiwan NT finished seventh both in the previous Asian Championships and Asian Games. Obviously that was not acceptable, considering these kids are much more talented than their predecessors. Experience and coaching are two most important ingredients for them right now.

Head coach Lee Chin-chi notes that the team will set making the semifinals as the ultimate goal. But his brave statement is not likely to happen in Harbin.

Taiwan NT will have to beat either Iran or Syria to have a chance making the second round. All three opponents in the same group, China, Iran and Syria, have the inside advantage over Taiwan NT. In short, these kids will have to learn to bang inside and take the pounding from their opponents in order to balance their perimeter-oriented style. And it will be a difficult job.

If everything goes well, that means beating both Iran and Syria, I think Taiwan NT will have a chance to squeeze into the second round. The first preliminary round game vs. Iran will probably the deciding game for Taiwan NT in the championships.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Sponsor jerseys cause trouble for Taiwan NT

Local newspaper Liberty Times blasted Taiwan NT for putting on sponsor jerseys instead of NT uniform in a game during the Philippines warm-up tour in August. The news story said it’s a “disgrace” for Taiwan NT to put on sponsor jerseys and forget about their country.

In the August 10th game featuring Taiwan NT and PBA pro team Ginebra, Taiwan NT was asked by the organizers before the game to put on jerseys provided by local sponsors, since the company “Mail and More” paid for the game operations.

“Mail and More Chinese Taipei” team, as it was called, was reluctant at first but finally agreed to change uniforms. Players followed the order from team officials.

CTBA secretary general Wang Jen-shen was quoted in Philippines Daily Inquirer saying, "The Taiwanese team would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to Air21 chair Bert Lina for sponsoring our trip here in Manila."

The incident was kept unknown after the team came back to Taiwan until yesterday. Wang denied taking money from the sponsors and said he decided to do so because he didn’t want to hurt the relationship from both sides. Unlike Philippines NT, Taiwan NT never sells naming rights to local sponsors, although they have been sponsored by NIKE Taiwan.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003


Ho Sho-jen, member of Taiwanese NT for the past three years, will leave Bank of Taiwan and sign with Taiwan Beer. Shan Wei-fan ends his one-year contract with SINA Lions and return to Jutai Technology.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Asian Championship - China eyes for revenge

No doubt about it. China is once again targeting South Korea as their biggest roadblock in the upcoming Asian Championship. And they desperately need a revenge for the upset loss to South Korea in last year’s Asian Games, when they wasted a 7-point lead in the last minute and lost to the Koreans in overtime.

You can see that in the draw. As the host nation, China enjoys the privilege of changing the draw format that has been used in the Asian Championship for the past few years.

Instead of placing top six teams in S-order like old times, teams finishing 2nd to 11th are placed in S-order this year. The order of finish from 2nd to 11th in 2001 Asian Championship goes like this: Lebanon, Korea, Syria, Qatar, Japan, Taiwan, India, Uzbekistan, UAE and Hong Kong. Due to the no-show of UAE, 12th-place Kuwait gets into the mix. After that, the other teams go to the real draw. So…you get the picture how the preliminary grouping is decided.

The defending champ China has the right to choose which group they want to be in. They chose Group C in order to make sure they won’t face South Korea before the semifinals, even the final game.

On paper, China will win Group C and Korea is virtually guaranteed the Group B winner, since Group B is regarded as the weakest. That puts China and Korea on different second round groups.

In the second round, China should have no problem winning the group, which includes maybe Lebanon, Kuwait, Japan/or Qatar. Korea will have a tougher battle, being in the same group with Kazakhstan, Qatar/or Japan, Syria/or Iran/or Taiwan.

Plus, keep an eye on the schedule. Second round games involving C1 (Group C winner) are all scheduled at 19:30 – prime time for local TV broadcast.

Unless South Korea finishes second in the second round group, China won’t face South Korea before the championship game.

However, South Korea doesn’t send its strongest team to Harbin, with three primary players, Seo Jang-hoon, Chun Hee-chul and Hoon Joo-yup, out of the lineup because of injury.

Word is China considers bringing back Wang Zhi-zhi before Sep. 9, the deadline for submitting the final roster.

Considering all factors, I would have to say this: China is expected to get the only ticket to Athens. Everything works to their advantage. The 2003 Asian gold is China’s to lose.