China’s still alive on the third day of the World Baseball Classic.

In a few years that might not be such a surprise.

China defeated Taiwan 4-1 on Saturday to move into a Sunday contest against South Korea with a spot in the second round on the line.

“Today’s win is just a start,” center fielder Sun Lingfeng said.

“It’s not a big deal. We have to keep winning.”

Win or lose on Sunday, the victory against rival Taiwan could prove to be an important step for a nation celebrating just its second victory on the international level.

China still lags far behind Japan and South Korea in baseball and the development of quality players. China recorded its first international victory when it edged Taiwan 8-7 in 12 innings on Aug. 15, 2008, in the Beijing Olympics and is showing signs of gradual improvement.

“Our country doesn’t have a long baseball history,” Sun said. “We are still behind. So we have to go step by step to catch up with the other countries.”

Little was expected of the Chinese, who went 1-6 in the Olympics and didn’t win a game in the 2006 WBC.

China was surprisingly competitive in a 4-0 loss to Japan on Thursday, however, before topping Taiwan.

“Our goal was to get to the third round,” China manager Terry Collins said. “This game was a great win for us and a huge confidence builder. We’ll be ready for whoever we play tomorrow.”

China now shifts its fous to the game against South Korea.

“We’ll enjoy this victory for about the next two to three hours,” Collins said. “Then we’re going to sit in the stands and watch that great game tonight and prepare for tomorrow.”

The former Orix Buffaloes skipper was also aware of the bigger picture.

“When I walked off the field into the clubhouse and saw the Chinese officials as excited and as happy as they were, I think it means a lot for baseball in China.”

The win was even sweeter as it came against Taiwan, which shares a very heated rivalry with China.

“I know that they (Taiwan) were looking forward to this game,” Collins said.

“Perhaps to get a little revenge from the Olympic loss. So I know this means a lot for not only our team but hopefully for baseball in China.”

The Chinese have a huge task ahead of them, regardless of their opponent, if they hope to crash the second round in the United States.

“The pressure is going to be on the other team,” Collins said. “They’re supposed to win. We’re not supposed to be there. Both those teams are very, very good.”

While Collins has not been with the team long, he can see the results of the efforts of his predecessor, Jim Lefebvre, and thinks the team is headed in the right direction.

“Are they on par with the Japanese?” Collins asked after the loss to Japan.

“Not yet. But they’re getting there. They’ve got some good athletes on this team.

“With their athleticism and those big players that they have, they can make a rapid advancement,” Collins said.

“Now the time frame . . . it could be five, six years down the road where all of a sudden they’re starting to create some young bright players.”

Sun, for one, is optimistic about the future of the sport.

“No one knows the future of baseball in China,” Sun said. “But hopefully in the future, we can become one of the best baseball playing nations in the world.”

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