Host China reached the quarterfinals at Beijing Olympic women's handball after stunning European powerhouse France 21-18 in their last preliminary game here on Sunday.
"The key to our victory is the change of the defending strategy. In the previous four games, we always adopted a 3-2-1 defending system, which left too much space for opponents to break through. But today we tightened our defending line," said Kang Jae-won, silver medallist at 1988 Seoul Games.
France, fifth placer in 2007 World Championship, must have done their homework, but they appeared nail-biting in front of China's new defence system, only netting in five points 20 minutes into the game.
The host should have enjoyed an early lead, only if they could improve their shooting efficiency. Though constantly launching fast breaks after ball interception, China merely scored nine goals out of 29 shots in the first half and trailed one point at the interval.
After the match resumed, China maintained their tight defence, while paying more attention to polish their shots. Goalkeeper Huang Hong produced a number of impressive blocks in front of a jubilant local crowds, only allowing France to net home twice until midway of the second half. Meanwhile, China scored nine points to build up their lead. France mounted a fierce fightback at the end of the match, but failed to even the score until the buzzer.
"We knew France was stronger than us. But in order to achieve our goal to reach top eight, we have to beat them. We believe that everything can happen before the end of the game, so we just fought with our highest morale," said left back Wang Shasha, who paced China with five goals.
Having snatched this decisive win, China outclassed France to finish third in Group A. They will meet the second placer of Group B in next Tuesday's quarterfinals.