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Captain Yuan steers China to magnificent comeback win

 

Stuttgart, Germany, June 12, 2018 - Xinyue Yuan helped drag Olympic champions China back from the depths of despair as they came from two sets down to beat Germany in a thrilling five-setter 3-2 (20-25, 25-27, 25-17, 25-23, 15-8) to end their poor recent form in the women's FIVB Volleyball Nations League. 

Germany came into this match as massive underdogs against a China side who have already secured their place in the Final Six as the host nation. And despite knowing that they were too far adrift of the top six to make the Final Round, the host nation threatened a monumental upset by taking the first two sets before eventually falling in five. China, on the other hand, were error prone and lacked basic communication for the first hour of this match despite their blockers making some headway, but Lang Ping's girls produced a stirring comeback to end a run of three defeats in four VNL matches as they moved to 7&6. 

China had captain Yuan to thank for a rousing turnaround; the skipper produced 11 points, including four huge blocks, as the visitors eventually wore down a tiring Germany side. Yuan was assisted by joint top-scorers Xiangyu Gong, Fang Duan and Yingying Li, who all chipped in with 12 points, while Mingyuan Hu provided three block points as the Chinese blockers got the better of the opposition. China were well below their best but emerged deserving winners as they grew stronger as the match wore on. 

Felix Koslowski's Germany were indebted to Kimberly Drewniok's 23 points and a monstrous performance from Jennifer Geerties who weighed in with 19 as they threatened an almighty upset in front of the Stuttgart crowd. In the absence of injured top-scorer Louis Lippmann, Maren Fromm (13 points), setter Denise Hanker and libero Lenka Durr gave it their all with Germany's digging far superior to that of the Chinese. The Germans also managed 66 spikes to China's 53, but it wasn't enough as a difference in class told in the end. 

China were quick out of the blocks in the opening set and looked fluid in attack with Duan and Yanhan Liu enjoying themselves, and the visitors led 14-9. But back came Germany and a wonderful sequence of serves from Hanke - she won three aces in a row - put the hosts 18-17 in front amidst growing belief inside the Porsche-Arena. The normally reliable Liu made a couple of poor errors to stretch Germany's lead and they rounded out the set 25-20, much to China head Lang Ping's disbelief.  

China had won an incredible 33 of the sides' 37 meetings, yet lightning struck twice in the second set with the favourites blowing a healthy lead once again. 12-7 in front and with their blockers frustrating Germany, China looked to be closing in on the set, but they pressed the self-destruct button. Geerties was the outstanding player in the second set and gave Germany the required impetus as they converted their third set point to take it 27-25. Real trouble for the visitors!

The Chinese needed to win the third set and again they got the ideal start, racing into a 4-0 lead, but this time they maintained that lead with captain Yuan leading her side with some valuable blocks as Germany's attackers ran into a red Chinese wall. Drewniok did her best to keep the hosts in it with a couple of thumping spikes, but China had rediscovered their mojo, and took the set comfortably (25-17). 

China were on a roll, they had also sorted their serve out by this point and were no longer coughing up key points. They stormed into a 7-3 lead playing the kind of volleyball they're accustomed to with setter Linyu Diao beginning to dictate play. Gong was also stepping up to the plate with some huge spikes, but Germany improved their blocking - gaining three block points to China's none in this set - and clawed their way back. It was looking desperate for China at 23-22, but three successive points - the latter after a rare spike miss from Geerties - sealed the set and sent the match to a decider. 

China were now huge favourites to win and their extra class and power was there for all to see in the fifth. A colossal Hu block  - one of China's 14 - made it 5-3 with the visitors now in full fluid mode with an added air of invincibility at the net. A huge Yuan point stretched the gap to four and this was now plain sailing for the Chinese, who wrapped up the set 15-8 - much to coach Ping's relief! There's still life in China yet as they move up to seventh place; meanwhile Germany slip to 5&8.

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