the USA in action against China during the FIVB Women's Junior World Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima
[VOLLEYBALL] With just two days away before a team in the superpower four - Brazil, China, Japan and the USA - will be crowned the 2007 world champions, every team is set to make the assault and go great guns in the FIVB Women's Junior World Championship.
Wednesday was a rest day of the top-flight competition and all 12 teams participating in the championship had a chance to take a break from the tough task they have been confronting.
The semi-finals start on Thursday, with Brazil, defending and successive three-time champions, taking on the Norceca winners USA and Japan challenging China in the all-Asians battle. In the 5th-8th classification matches, hosts Thailand play Ukraine and the European champions Italy face Germany, while Dominican Republic meet Puerto Rico and Croatia pit their expertise against the two-time African champions Egypt in the 9th-12th classification round.
The Brazilians, who have captured the world crown for five times since the championship's inception on home soil in 1977, made a clean sweep of five matches in the group round-robin preliminary round.
The South American champions became the only team still unbeaten in the championship by dropping only two sets to their respective rivals in the preliminaries. Brazil barely encountered any resistance in the 2007 episode and to retain the title seems a cakewalk for them.
The USA got off to a dismal start in the championship with a disappointing 1-3 loss at the hands of Germany. However, the American girls gradually pulled their games together to win the remaining matches including a stunning 3-1 triumph over the Asian powerhouse China.
The USA have been taking part in the World Championship for the fifth time, but never had a chance to step on any level of the podium. The team's best performance in the championship was in the 1977 Sao Paolo edition, where they came in fifth place. At the previous meet two years ago, the USA left Turkey with their heads low in great disappointment after they finished a distant 11th position.
The mighty clash between the 1995 world champions China and Japan will be the rematch of the last year's final of the Asian Women's Junior Championship at the same arena here in Nakhon Ratchasima. The Japanese are looking forward to not only avenging the bitter loss in the Asian Championship final at the hands of the Chinese but also making a step better than their appearance in 1985 when they finished second to Cuba.
Meanwhile, the home side had a remarkable run in the championship. Despite the loss to the USA and China in the preliminary round, Thailand regained their form and made the much of impact when the smaller-built Thai girls beat the stronger Germany, Dominican Republic and Egypt.
Following their awesome form, head coach Banjong Sombat, who said his side had an initial target of finishing eighth in the top-notch competition, now has a higher aim of a fifth-place finish. Thailand have been competing as the host team in the World Championship for the third time. In 1995 in Bangkok, they finished a disappointing 13th place, but broke their jinx to finish ninth in 2003 in Suphan Buri. This time, it's quite certain that the home players will have a better luck when they now play in the 5th-8th classification matches.
The Nation, Nakhon Ratchasima
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