Few predicted China stood any chance for a medal at the World Championship of Basketball. The Chinese may still come away empty, but they're one of eight teams that can still win one.
China beat Spain 78-76 Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time, ensuring its best finish ever in a major international competition.As the gold medal was awarded to the United States the day the Dream Team roster was announced, and the silver was pretty much given to Croatia when its NBA stars committed to play, the bronze was up for grabs for a small group and China was not among them.
Most observers said China would do well finishing in the top 10, something it missed by four places in the 1990 World Championship. It finished ninth in 1986. Now it can do no worse than eighth.
"I am very proud of my team," coach Jiang Xingquu said. "I think these victories show how really hard the players have worked in training. Now we have to be careful for each game."
The round-robin quarterfinals start Monday with China playing Croatia and Greece meeting Canada. The other pool starts Tuesday with the United States playing Australia and Puerto Rico against Russia.
The top two teams in each group advance to Saturday's semifinals and the gold medal will be awarded next Sunday.
China (2-1), which lost to the United States by 55 points, is the only real surprise among the quarterfinalists. It started the 16-team tournament with an overtime victory over Brazil.
"China has made great progress but we are still young," Jiang said. "When we have difficulties the players have helped each other."
They might need a lot of help against Croatia (3-0), which features Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Dino Radja of the Boston Celtics. Croatia was never tested in the opening round and Kukoc, the 6-foot-10 guard-forward, seems to be playing himself into shape as the tournament goes on.
Greece (2-1) lost to Puerto Rico 72-64 Sunday, but had already clinched a berth in the quarterfinals. It relies on the inside game of Panagiotis Fassoulas, who played at North Carolina State under the late Jim Valvano, and the outside shooting of international veteran Panagiotis Yiannakis.
Canada (2-1), the first North American country to play host to the World Championship, may have done itself a favor by losing to Russia on Saturday night. Now it is in the opposite pool from the United States meaning it has a 2-in-4 chance of moving on as opposed to the 1-in-3 shot the teams in with the Dream Team have.
Puerto Rico (2-1), which won the gold medal at the recent Goodwill Games, needed a five-point victory over Greece to advance and made it by three to eliminate Germany from medal competition.
Australia's only loss was to Croatia and Russia comes in with a perfect record after beating Canada.