China, Sweden close to semifinals in men's curling

STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer Published:

SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- China and Sweden earned convincing wins Saturday to move into a two-way tie for the lead in men's Olympic curling and guarantee at least a tiebreaker for a spot in the semifinals.

The Chinese silenced the home crowd early in a 9-6 victory over Russia to maintain their sparkling form this week and Sweden needed only nine ends to beat Germany 8-4. Both winning teams are 6-1.

Canada, the pre-tournament favorite and two-time defending champion, stole a point in the last end of a tight, scrappy game against Britain to win 7-5 and leave both teams at 5-2.

Canada skip Brad Jacobs scratched his neck and covered his face with his hands in gestures of relief after seeing Britain's final shot -- an attempted double takeout -- go wrong. It left the Canadians with the winning stone by the narrowest of margins.

"Relief. Complete and total relief," said Jacobs, whose team would have been in danger of not qualifying if it had lost. "We got lucky."

Only Norway (3-3), which didn't play Saturday, realistically can stop the current top four from reaching the playoffs. The Norwegians play Britain in Sunday's morning session and could be knocked out of contention with a loss.

Switzerland beat Denmark 9-3 in the other game in the afternoon session. Neither team can make the medal round.

Players and coaches from rival teams stayed on to watch the riveting end to the Canada-Britain game, highlighting how crucial it was in the context of the tournament. Even players from the Canadian ice hockey team were at the Ice Cube Curling Center for the game.

By opening with two losses in their first three games, the Canadians have been under pressure all week and they again failed to produce their best form. Jacobs was uncharacteristically sloppy, by his very high standards, and shouted "that shouldn't have happened!" when he failed to hold the shooter for two points in the ninth end.

That meant Britain was one point behind and throwing the last stone in the 10th, which proved to be a messy one. Britain skip David Murdoch went for a final shot that would have picked up two points and won the game, but failed.

"If it had just curled that one millimeter more," Murdoch said. "It was pretty heart-breaking."

Sweden and China will qualify for the semifinals by winning their first games on Sunday, against Russia and Switzerland, respectively.

"Hopefully we can get a team (in the playoffs) who has a longer wait to make the semifinal," Sweden skip Niklas Edin said. "Right now it looks like Britain or Norway (will miss out), we will see which it will be."