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US v China battle catches the eye

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Mihir Bose | 11:40 UK time, Monday, 11 August 2008

There is nothing like a dose of good old-fashioned nationalism to produce a compelling Olympic sporting moment.

Sunday's USA versus China basketball match - which finished at midnight Beijing time - proved that in spades.

True, midway through the second quarter, the outcome of the match was not in doubt. After that the only question was the margin of the American victory and would they score 100 points.

This meant the element of surprise so essential for a great match was missing. But there was much in the match and in the stadium to take the eye.

Yao Ming's team were outclassed by the Americans

As if the weather gods knew we were in for a special evening just before the start - 1015 local time, which is Sunday brunch time in US, convenient for US television - the monsoon arrived in Beijing.

Such was the interest in this match that the 18,000-seater stadium could have been filled twice over. The media tribune was overflowing.

There was also a game within a game. Before the match - and at intervals during it - the game was spot George. George Bush, who was there.

I must confess I failed to spot him but did see him leave before the end with America nearly 30 points ahead.

In many ways the Chinese crowd made the match. They did not hide their nationalistic feeling for their team.

This included trying to put off the Americans as they were taking the free throws. But they was nothing nasty or brutish about their nationalism.

If their cheers for China were loudest, they threatened to take the roof off when Yao Ming was introduced, they also cheered the Americans.

And like all sporting crowds everywhere they showed that they are affected by their team's performance. So until midway through the second quarter, when China was still in the game, they were loud, enthusiastic and effervescent.

Then as America took charge in building a huge lead, they fell silent only to revive late on when China had a few sparkling moments towards the end.

The match was also a fascinating contrast in styles.

China built up their attacks slowly and preferred to strike from distance.

America counter-attacked swiftly, two or three moves and they were almost under the Chinese basket. They liked to drive into the Chinese D, leading to many Chinese fouls and many free throws for the Americans.

There was an element of American showboating, what Vinnie Jones would have called the fancy Dan stuff, and I suspect a better team than the Chinese might test or even beat these Americans.

Yao Ming of course took the eye - how could he not being 7ft 6in?

But his style of play, as a colleague said, was like a rather tall, old-fashioned English forward, always with his back to the basket to receive the ball and then hope to do something on the turn.

The only discordant note was stuck by China's desire to ape America. So we had giant screens proclaiming "wow" and "slam dunk" when there was a score.

Also during the breaks in play a group of girls called Beijing dancers came on. Not only were some of them blondes but their attempts to recreate American-style cheerleaders - I am told an American was hired to teach them - just did not work.

China's desire to prove it can do anything the West can is understandable, but there is no need to go quite this far.


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