Thursday, November 25, 2010

Afghan fairytale as China eye record at Asian Games

GUANGZHOU, CHINA - NOVEMBER 17:  A fan holds u...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - China's red army marched to the brink of a gold medal record at the Asian Games on Thursday while an upset victory by a rag-tag cricket team answered prayers in war-torn Afghanistan.
Jubilant Afghan players sank to their knees in prayer after an unlikely 22-run semi-final win over Pakistan ensured at least a silver medal in cricket's debut at the multi-sport event.
China's gold medal juggernaut has eased off with the gradual winding up of table tennis, badminton and gymnastics competitions but the hosts still managed to pick up titles in boxing, diving and kayaking.
They remain two shy of their record haul of 183 at the 1990 Games in Beijing with two days of competition left. South Korea are a distant second with 72 golds.
Afghanistan's victory over last year's Twenty20 world champions ensured legions of fans back home will crowd around television sets on Friday in the hope the fairytale can continue during the gold medal match against Bangladesh on Friday.
"On TV last night in Afghanistan they told people to pray that we would win," said vice-captain Karim Khan Sadeq. "Tonight they will be celebrating all over the country. It is a dream for us."
Despite bringing a second-string team, Pakistan's mix of youth and domestic-grade players were expected to overpower their strife-torn neighbor, many of whom learned the game from Pakistanis while growing up in refugee camps after fleeing conflict across the border.
Instead, it was the Pakistanis who were left weeping after a middle-order batting collapse dashed their hopes of reaching a competitive target of 125.
"We are very depressed. We cried at first," said fast bowler Aisaz Cheema. "Everybody is watching at home in Pakistan. They will not be pleased."
It was not all gloom for the Pakistan delegation, however, after their men's hockey team ground out a 2-0 win over Malaysia to clinch their first gold in 20 years and book a berth at the 2012 London Olympics.
"This is so sweet that I don't have words to express my feelings," said team manager Khawaja Muhammad Junaid. "It's a wonderful match, and today is the revival of Pakistan hockey."
Pakistan then sunk the boot in by upsetting Malaysia in the men's team squash final, preventing the southeast Asian nation from a clean sweep of golds.
The hockey and squash titles trebled Pakistan's gold medal count to three while China's women's basketball team picked up the host's 181st in the final event on day 13 of competition by defeating South Korea 70-64.
Double Olympic champion wrestler Artur Taymazov restored some pride for Uzbekistan, whose delegation has been embarrassed by bringing the only two drug cheats caught at the Asian Games.
The imperious 31-year-old overpowered Mongolia's Chuluunbat Jargalsaikhan 15-0 to make it three straight golds in the heavyweight 120 kg category.
"I feel like all gold medalists feel. My painstaking effort has paid off. I have fulfilled my goal, my task," he said.
Iran's Reze Yazdani took gold in the men's 96 kg class after weathering an ill-tempered bout and an eye-gouging from Kazakhstan's Taimuraz Tigiyev.
The cantankerous Kazakh then lashed out at the Iranian when he was declared the winner during the victory hand-raising.
Japan's men's soccer team started the tournament with a 3-0 thrashing of China in a preliminary where security personnel nearly outnumbered spectators, as authorities feared a violent flare-up amid strained ties between the two wartime foes.
Security was lighter at Tianhe stadium on Thursday evening, as Japan edged the United Arab Emirates 1-0 for their first Asian Games gold in front of a mostly generous crowd.
"I arrived here yesterday by air just for the final, I wanted to witness Japan lose this match," said disappointed spectator Yang Bing, a 42-year-old man from China's southwestern Sichuan province, nearly 2,000 kms away.
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret, Meg Shen and Sabrina Mao; Editing by John Mehaffey; To query or comment on this story email

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