(2nd LD) Host S. Korea takes bronze after semifinal loss to China at table tennis worlds

BUSAN, The host South Korea settled for a bronze medal at the world table tennis championships Saturday following a tough loss to China in the men's team semifinals. South Korea pushed the 10-time defending champion to the brink before losing 3-2 at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan. The ITTF does not hold a third-place match at world championships. The two losers of the semifinals will each take home a bronze medal. Team world championships are held in even-numbered years. This is South Korea's fourth consecutive bronze medal on the men's side. China is now one win away from capturing its 11th consecutive men's team title and its 23rd overall. "I think both teams played a great match," South Korea head coach Joo Sae-hyuk said. "I didn't expect our guys to play this well. I think we showed great teamwork." The 3 1/2-hour marathon was an instant classic of a battle that featured high-quality shotmaking on both ends. The crowd at the Busan Exh ibition and Convention Center was almost evenly split, with a sizable Chinese contingent taking up one side of the stands. South Korea set the tone early when world No. 14 Jang Woo-jin defeated No. 2 Wang Chuqin 3-1 (11-7, 2-11, 13-11, 11-6). World No. 1 Fan Zhendong responded for China by shutting down 18th-ranked Lim Jong-hoon 3-0 (11-8, 11-6, 11-8). South Korea reclaimed its lead when 27th-ranked Lee Sang-su toppled No. 3 Ma Long 3-2 (11-7, 4-11, 12-10, 6-11, 11-4). China stayed alive as Fan beat Jang 3-0 (11-6, 11-7, 12-10) and then finished off South Korea thanks to Wang's 3-0 (11-5, 11-7, 11-6) win over Lim. Jang claimed the first game against Wang. The two traded points early, and then Jang opened up an 8-4 lead en route to an 11-7 win. The second game, though, was an entirely different affair, as Wang won the first eight points for an easy win that tied the match at 1-1. Jang pushed back in the third game, grabbing a 4-1 lead and then holding off Wang 13-11 in a deuce battle. Jang then complet ed the stunning opening win in the fourth game. He enjoyed some fortuitous bounces, with a couple of returns hitting the top of the net and dropping on the other half of the table, just out of Wang's reach. After clinching his win with a big forehand, Jang screamed and pumped his fist in wild celebration, while also trying to fire up the crowd at the BEXCO. However, Lim was not able to sustain that momentum for South Korea. Fan took the first game with a series of powerful winners. Then in the second game, Fan turned a 6-5 deficit into an 11-6 win, with Lim unable to hold his ground against Fan's onslaught. Lim showed a little bit of life in the third game by taking 5-4 lead, but Fan scored two quick points and never trailed again the rest of the way to finish off the South Korean. Lee put South Korea back on top by beating Ma. Lee took the first game against the uncharacteristically shaky Ma, who bounced back to win the next game. Ma then built a 7-3 lead in the third game before Lee forced deuce. The South Korean won the next two points, punctuating his comeback with a forehand winner and grabbing a 2-1 lead for the match. Ma won six straight points in one stretch for an 11-6 win in the fourth game, which evened the match at 2-2. In the deciding game, Lee pulled away from a 3-3 tie to a 7-3 lead and conceded just one more point the rest of the match, staking South Korea to a 2-1 lead. But Fan defeated Jang to force the deciding fifth match. Fan was rarely threatened in winning the first game and then grabbed the final four points of the second game to go up 2-0. The two battled to a deuce in the third game, with Jang refusing to go down without a fight, but Fan outclassed him in the end. With a place in the final at stake, Wang made quick work of Lim. Wang sprinted out to a 6-0 lead in the first game and rounded out a tidy win. Wang then rallied from a 6-3 deficit to take the second game 11-7. In the third game, Wang quickly turned a 6-4 lead into an 11-6 win, with Lim looking more helpless with ea ch play. Lee, the elder statesman of the team at 33, thanked South Korean fans for their raucous support. "This would have been an even tougher match without our fans cheering us on," Lee said. "It felt good to put on an entertaining show for them. If we keep playing this way, we're going to have good results in the future." Lim, who lost the deciding match, said he will try to learn from his defeat. "It was a close call," he said. "I will try to prepare better for future matches so I won't have regrets like I do today." Source: Yonhap News Agency

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