One day after Brazil and the United States set up a mouthwatering final in the Olympic women's volleyball tournament, the men's teams from both countries will be sure to meet in the other final of the event after prevailing through respective semifinals on Friday.
World and Olympic champions Brazil came through a worrying first set slump to beat Italy 19-25, 25-18, 25 -21, 25-22 in a repeat of Athens Games final four years ago.
Italy captain Alberto Cisolla's serve caused a lot of trouble to the receive of the Brazilian team in the opening set and the blue team made a flying start by storming to a solid 9-2 lead.
Despite looking out of sorts in the opening set, the Brazilian team showed few signs of vulnerability in the remaining time and got their top game back together right in time.
The South Americans, the Olympic gold medalists in Athens 2004 and Barcelona 1992, will in Sunday's final face the United States, who survived a five-set thriller to beat Russia in an earlier semifinal.
The Russians rallied from two sets down to force the tiebreaker where they overcame an early 6-3 deficit to overtake the lead at 12-11, but spiker David Lee scored the last four points of the United States and stopped ace Russian leading scorer Maxim Mikhaylov to wind up the marathon match.
"I came alive! all match long I couldn't play my best volleyball, but in the end I got it done," said American middle blocker David Lee, who finished with 12 points for the 2008 World League champion.
It will be the second time in history that both teams of the United States make the men's and women's volleyball finals of an Olympic Games at the same time.
"Brazil is a great team, we have beaten them the last couple of times playing against them, we will just take it home," Lee added.
Coming into the game on a nine-match winning streak over Italy since 2003, the world number one team seemed to take their opponents lightly in the beginning and had to dig deep while trailing 9-2 behind in the opening set.
The Brazilian players had once cut the cushion to within three points at 19-16, but Italy held strong nerves to take the first set at 25-19.
The astonishing run of the blue contingent forced the Bralizians to raise their game much above the ordinary, and it was the back-court smash from the Brazil captain Gilberto Godoy Filho that impressed in the second set.
The Brazilians built up a 8-4 lead at the first technical timeout and went on to withstand a strong comeback before claiming the set at 25-18.
After racking up the third set at 25-21, Brazil had the momentum on their side and looked a lot more convincing in the fourth set. Filho and middle blocker Gustavo Endres picked off some early points, forcing Italy off for the first timeout of the set while trailing 6-4.
On the resumption, the blue contingent lost the next three points to give their opponents an even more comfortable lead at 9-4.
Italy fought hard to pull the scoreboard within just one point, but the Brazilians held on to take the set and the whole match at 25-22 after converting on the second match point.
(Xinhua News Agency August 22, 2008)