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Friday, 19 March 2010

José María Olazábal must inspire his European Team to a matchplay miracle tomorrow after Asia enjoyed a red-letter day to take a 6½-1½ lead following The Royal Trophy fourballs.

The Spanish captain - aiming to extend Europe's 100 per cent record in the event after deputising for former Ryder Cup partner and close friend Seve Ballesteros, who is recovering from brain surgery - saw the red of Asia dominate the scoreboard as the hosts extended their lead ahead of the final day's singles.

Joe Ozaki's side won three of the best-ball contests and halved the other at Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok to leave them requiring two points out of a possible eight tomorrow to claim their first title in the third edition of the Ryder Cup-style matchplay event.

China's Liang Wen-chong and Charlie Wi of South Korea beat English pair Oliver Wilson and Nick Dougherty 3 and 2 before Scotland's Paul Lawrie and Soren Hansen of Denmark finished all square with Japanese duo Ryo Ishikawa - the 17 year old World Number 60 - and Toru Taniguchi.

It was Europe's only mark on the scoreboard as Olazábal's side lost the remaining matches.

Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng claimed a 4 and 2 victory over Ireland's Paul McGinley and Pablo Larrazabal of Spain before Swedish pair Johan Edfors and Niclas Fasth lost 2 and 1 to Japan's Hideto Tanihara and SK Ho of South Korea.

Olazábal, who together with Ballesteros formed the most successful Ryder Cup pairing in history, insists Europe can bounce back.

"We cannot stop believing," the 42 year old said.

"We still have a chance - even though it's a slim one."

Both European captain Olazábal and Asian counterpart Ozaki retained faith in their partnerships from the first day.

But the Spaniard was left to wonder if it was the correct decision after three European pairings trailed throughout the second blustery day of action.

The only blue on the scoreboard came from the front match.

Seeking their second successive win, Lawrie and Hansen were one up from the eighth to the 15th holes, but some inspired play from Ishikawa - including a 50 foot birdie putt on the seventh and a birdie into the wind on the 617 yard 16th - ensured the battle would go to the closing hole.

His partner Taniguchi then made a birdie three on the par four 18th to pile the pressure on Hansen.

The Dane held his nerve with a five foot putt as the match ended all square for Europe's solitary mark on the scoreboard.

Asia started strongly in the next three matches and then staved off minor revivals from their European opponents on the incoming nine.

Liang and Wi were four up on Wilson and Dougherty after eight holes - the highlight coming when China's number one holed a 60 footer for a birdie on the seventh - but the English pair won the eighth and ninth with successive birdies.

Wilson made a birdie four on the par five 11th to reduce the arrears to one, but the Asian pair responded.

Wi birdied the 15th and Liang followed suit on the par five 16th as the Asian duo triumphed 3 and 2 to inflict a second loss on Dougherty and Wilson.

Prayad and Thongchai romped to a second successive triumph as McGinley and Larrazabal struggled to find their range throughout the contest.

Tanihara and Ho, of Japan and South Korea respectively, held a slender advantage over Fasth and Edfors for much of the day.

However, a birdie three on the 15th earned a two hole cushion and the Asian pair went on to triumph.

Olazábal paid tribute to the Asian team's performance on the putting surface.

"The Asian team putted extremely well today on the greens," added Olazábal.

"They made a lot of crucial putts, a lot of important putts at times when matches could go either way - they would make a ten footer or 12 footer and keep the momentum on their side.

"Sometimes it's like that."

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