LONDON, July 25 (Reuters) - South Korea will face North Korea in the first round of the Olympics 2012 men’s table tennis team event after a draw on Wednesday that pitted fierce rivals against each other.
South Korea are the second most successful nation in Olympic table tennis behind only powerhouse China, while North Korea rank as the fifth most successful thanks to past triumphs in the women’s event.
Europe’s top men’s team Germany were disappointed with a tough draw that will see them meet Sweden in the first round and possibly China in the semi-finals -- ruling out a rematch of the Beijing 2008 final.
China are hot favourites to repeat the clean sweep of golds they achieved on home soil four years ago, although a change in the rules to limit each country to just two players in the singles format will leave them with less room for error.
The country dominates the sport and has won 20 out of the 24 golds since table tennis joined the Olympic programme in 1988.
Men’s singles favourite, Zhang Jike, is likely to face Turkey’s Bora Vang in his first game. If all goes to form, Zhang will face Japan’s number three seed Jun Mizutani in the semi-finals.
In her first game women’s singles favourite Ding Ning is set to face Romanian Daniela Dodean, who may rue comments made on Wednesday before the draw. “The only two who are unbeatable are the two from China,” Dodean said.
The draw’s drama was thrown up by the three-person team event -- a straight knockout in London for the first time -- thanks to its more limited 16-team format.
China’s men will play Russia in the first round and would then face Australia or Singapore en route to an expected encounter with Germany.
In the Korean first-round battle, second seeds South Korea are favourites to beat the 11th seeded North Koreans and proceed towards a possible final against China.
In the women’s team event, China will face Spain in the first round and are likely to meet Korea or Hong Kong in the semi-finals.
In the weaker half of the draw, number two seeds Japan will take on the United States in the first round, which is likely to see 19-year-old Kasumi Ishikawi face 16-year-old American Ariel Hsing.
The singles finals take place on Aug. 1-2, while the team finals are on Aug. 7-8. (Reporting by Steve Slater; editing by Ken Ferris)