CHINESE FORTUNE SMILES IN BEIJING
By Ted Lerner
WPA Press Officer
Photos Courtesy of Jin/my147.com & Tai Chengzhe
(Beijing)–With an eye on making history, and another on wanting to please the legions of their fellow countrymen and women, the China II team won the 2014 World Pool Team Championship today in Beijing, defeating a less than sharp Philippine team, 4-2.
The match remained tight down to the very last 10-ball match, and if not for a few mistakes by the never-say-die Filipinos, could have gone the other way. In reality, however, China played better pool, was more focused, and walked out of the Tongzhou Luhe High School arena a worthy champion.
For China, the win marks a milestone in Chinese billiard history, as it represents its biggest ever world title in American pool.(China twice won the scotch doubles World Cup of Pool.) 40 years ago pool was still considered a decadent bourgeois pastime here. But since China has opened up to the outside world, tens of millions of people from all walks of life have taken to the game. The government, which enthusiastically backs all Olympic sports—of which pool is one–, has promoted and financed the professional game, developed talent and funded some of the biggest tournaments in the world. Today in Beijing that investment paid off handsomely.
The win by the China 2 squad, which featured Liu Haitao, Dang Ching Hu, Wang Can, Fu Xiaofang, and Liu Shasha also meant a bit of revenge for China, as the Philippines had decimated the China 1 squad in the semi-finals on Friday, 4-0.
Because they had played so well in the semis, and indeed all week, the result was a bitter disappointment for the Philippines. The team, comprised of greats Dennis Orcollo, Lee Vann Corteza, Carlo Biado and Rubilen Amit, outlasted defending champions Taiwan in a classic thriller in the quarterfinals. And their semis performance against the China 1 squad was downright breathtaking. But in the final, the Pinoys let too many mistakes creep into their game. And the Chinese, who were remarkably focused and calm despite the pressure of playing at home, punished them each and every time.
The tone of the day was set right from the start with the two 8-ball matches being played simultaneously. On the TV table Orcollo faced off with Chinese veteran Liu Haitao. Orcollo, who is a former world 8-ball champion, was certainly the favorite in this match, but after the Filipino grabbed the first rack, Liu won the next two and never lost the lead the rest of the way. Orcollo committed two errors that cost him the match, while Liu played focused, smart pool and crossed the finish line first, winning 6-4.
At the same time on the adjoining table, Biado and Corteza took on the youngsters of the Chinese squad, Dang and Wang, in 8-ball doubles. Again, the Filipinos took the opening rack but it was all down hill from there as several errors along the way proved costly. The Chinese pair won handily 6-2 and China was up 2-0 in the match and looked well on their way to grabbing the title.
With the two 9-ball singles matches up next, the Philippines were suddenly in a must win situation. Corteza and Dang stayed even for six frames, but then the Chinese pounced on two glaring errors by the Filipino to move up 6-3. From there Corteza seemed mentally flat, while Dang played fired up. Dang missed a straight in 9-ball to win it at 7-4, but redeemed himself in the next frame with a break and run to put China up 3-0 and one away from victory.
For the Philippines that put the load upon the small shoulders of Rubilen Amit, who was playing 9-ball on the TV table against Fu Xiaofang. All week in Beijing, the smallish Amit had been a total rock for the Philippine team, coming through time and again and giving the squad that insurance all teams require. And against Fu, Amit didn’t disappoint as she played brilliantly again, shooting out to a 5-1 lead. Fu countered with a few racks of her own, but Amit stayed calm and won 8-4 to keep the Philippine hopes very much alive.
With the score 3-1 and the two 10-ball matches up next, the Philippines could only hope to make it to a shootout to decide the champion. Still, two short races to 10-ball was extremely doable and nobody on Team Philippines had yet to get down on themselves.
The intrigue and tension started to build in the arena as both matches were played simultaneously and stayed tight early. A few rolls of the balls either way meant we’d either have an outright champion, or the two teams would be headed for a dramatic shootout to decide the world champion.
Orcollo’s race to 7 match against the 20 year old Wang was even after six racks, but then the Filipino stamped his class on the proceedings to go up 6-3 and move one away from a win. Then, however, up 6-4, Orcollo missed an easy 10-ball to win the match.
At about the same time on the other table, the pair of Liu Haitao and Liu Shasha held a 5-3 lead over Amit and Biado in 10-ball doubles, race to 7. The Pinoys were starting to apply heat when Amit also scratched on a very difficult 10-ball.
Orcollo eventually went on to win 7-5, but his miss on the 10-ball 20 minutes earlier proved pivotal. Had he made that winning 10-ball, the score of the match would have been 3-2, and with Biado and Amit on the comeback, the Chinese pair would’ve felt serious heat straight away instead of several frames later.
Still, the pressure was clearly on Haitao and Shasha. They played well to push the score to 6-3 but again, the Pinoys bounced back with two to trail 6-5. The Chinese then executed a perfect break shot, and calmly ran the colors. Haitao left Shasah a cut on the 10-ball, which the diminutive champion potted with class to claim the title for the home team.
After the awarding ceremony, the veteran Liu Haitao seemed to be center of attention of the media and for good reason. The 31 year old from Inner Mongolia had held the team together with his rock solid form over the last six days, especially in the semis and finals, when it counted most. Liu noted that despite the pressure on the team to win at home, they came into today’s match with a positive attitude that served them well all day.
“We were relaxed out there today,” Liu said through an interpreter. “We didn’t really look at it as a final. The Philippines is always so strong so there’s no use in worrying and before the match I told the team to just take it easy, have fun and try not to think too much. Just enjoy ourselves.”
A disappointed Orcollo spoke for his gutted teammates, rightly pointing out that at this level, mistakes are always very costly.
“We weren’t that strong today,” Orcollo said. “We made too many mistakes, got some bad rolls. The 8-ball matches were bad, and then Lee Van lost the 9-ball. It’s hard to come back from 3-0 down. Rubilen played well, but it wasn’t enough. That’s the sport of pool. Hopefully next time.”
For the Chinese, including players, billiard officials and fans, it was a historic win that they will clearly cherish for a long time. Like all the Chinese players who are always humble to a fault, Lui Haitao spoke for everyone here about the meaning of his team’s accomplishment.
“I played about as good as I can play,” said Lui Haitao. :I’m very proud to have played this well in such a big event like this. But more importantly I’m very proud of the team. We all came together and did a great job. We won this for us, and for the Chinese fans. Hopefully with this win, it will mean a better future for pool in China.”
For the win, Team China won $80,000, while the Philippines pocketed $40,000. The total prize fund was $300,000
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*The World Pool and Billiard Association(WPA) is the governing body of the sport of pocket billiards.
The Liado U Valley World Pool Team Championship is sanctioned by the WPA, The Multi-Ball Games Administrative Center of General Administration of Sport, Chinese Billiard and Snooker Federation, Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sport, Beijing Sports Federation.