Volleyball: Italian men oust US and seek first gold
RIO DE JANEIRO – Italy’s men’s volleyball team put an end to a US winning streak and ousted the Americans from the Rio Games in a five-set battle on Friday to go through to the final where they will seek their first Olympic gold medal.
Italy overcame the United States 30-28 26-28 9-25 25-22 15-9 and will face twice Olympic champions and three-times silver medalists Brazil in Sunday’s title showdown.
The Brazilians avenged the loss of their 2012 London Games final to Russia in Friday’s second semi-final, overpowering the defending champions 3-0.
The Americans did not have the same luck in reverting a pool round loss to Italy, who ended a run of four straight victories by the United States as well as their bid for a fourth Olympic gold in the sport.
With unstoppable spikes and ace serves by their top scorer Ivan Zaytsev, the Italians took a hard-fought opening set.
The US took the second and third sets despite a barrage of killer spikes by Osmany Juantorena, a former Cuba national team wing spiker now playing for Italy.
The Americans streaked ahead with a 15-point run in the third with their top scorers, outside hitter Matt Anderson and main server and setter Micah Christenson, having a field day.
But Italy came back to secure victory with aces by Zaytsev and Juantorena in both the fourth set and tie-breaker.
“We were on such a high in the third set, but then we had a drop in energy in the fourth and they took advantage of that,” Anderson told reporters.
U.S. coach John Speraw, who brought a young team to Rio with eight players who had never competed in the Olympics, said Italy had played the best volleyball at the Games, and he praised his players for responding to the challenges well.