Germany tops Japan to enter table tennis finals

Aug. 16, 2008, 6:47 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Germany barely held off a determined Japanese squad on Saturday, winning 3-2 to advance to the gold-medal match of the table tennis men's team event.

The second-seeded Germans will face the winner of the China-South Korea contest to be played later Saturday. The top-ranked Chinese are favored to advance.

"We have nothing to lose. The Chinese have the pressure," Germany's Christian Suss said. "China has to win the gold medal in their own country here, and we will see what happens in the final."

Led by Timo Boll, the sixth-ranked player in the world, the Germans were on the offensive for the majority of the contest, driving to the sides and corners of the table and making the Japanese chase the ball. The crowd responded to the fast rallies with shouts of "Hao!" (Good!) on every slam.

But the unflashy Japanese waited for the Germans to make mistakes and mixed in a few of their own searing shots to force a decisive fifth game in three of the matches.

The deciding match pitted Boll against No. 63 Seiya Kishikawa, whose misfired returns were a big factor in the German victory. Boll had a shiny sheen of sweat on his forehead apparently more related to nerves than exertion.

"I played him before in the German Bundesliga and I won both matches, but today he really played at his limit and it really was tough match for my nerves. Mentally, it was very tough," Boll said.

After the winning shot, Boll fell to the ground and his teammates and coach rushed onto the court and dog-piled on top of him.

In the women's team competition, South Korea and Japan will play for the bronze medal after each won contests against difficult opponents.

The Koreans beat the United States 3-0 in a bronze-medal semifinal, although two of those matches went to five games. Many of the matches were close until the end, when the Americans inevitably gave up game points or the go-ahead score.

"We weren't fully confident. We stayed in the game, but we're still not as good as them," U.S. player Gao Jun said. "We have to play to our best to have any kind of a chance, but we felt like we played quite well today. We're satisfied with our performance, it's just a shame to lose."

South Korea came into the match less than a day after losing to Singapore in a tight 3-2 contest that lasted 3½ hours.

Japan, ranked fifth in the tournament, beat No. 3 Hong Kong 3-2 in the other contest. After Sayaka Hirano scored the final point over Tie Yana, she ran to the bench and hugged her teammates, all of them covering their tearstained faces with their hands.

"We didn't think we'd be able to beat Hong Kong, we were so excited," Ai Fukuhara said afterward, her eyes still misty. "Our goal was to win a medal. So tomorrow we have to get back to work."

Hong Kong was beaten by top-ranked China the previous evening in a 3-0 contest that was over in 52 minutes.

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