Belo Horizonte, Brazil, August 14 - Spain was elevated to giant killer status on Wednesday when they tested Russia to the limit in a tiebreaker that they eventually won 19-17 here in the finals of the FIVB $15 Million World League 2002. The Spanish team came into the match outsiders after a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Brazil on Tuesday but it did intimidate them against the team that was considered absolute favorite to win this year's title.
Francisco Hervas, the Spanish coach said his team had played the match of their lives. They had only beaten Russia once before, and then at the 1999 World Cup. "This victory is more important. It shows that Spanish Volleyball is growing and we can be among the best in the world," Hervas said.
Russia now faces titleholders Brazil in their final round robin match, and after the Brazilian 3-0 (25-23, 25-18, 25-23) victory over The Netherlands on Wednesday Brazilian coach Bernardo Rezende said he thought the Russians were the best. "I have never seen them this strong," he said. Rezende may have reconsidered his remarks after the Russians tumbled to Spain in the northern city of Recife. Spain now meets the luckless and set-less Dutch in the last round robin match and has an excellent chance to qualify for the semifinals.
Eight-times World League winners Italy ran out confident to face Poland with Alessandro Fei and the powerful Hristo Zlatanov ready for the kill. But with Poitr Gruszka and the 216cm Marcin Nowak in the middle on the net, the Poles repelled the Italians in the opening stages, going up 4-points to 14-10 and widening the gap to 16-11. Meanwhile, their coach, Waldemar Wspanialy, paced expressionless on the sidelines.
Trailing by six points Italian coach Andrea Anastasi took his players to task and they went back on the court to trim the lead to two points when Samuele Papi put away an overhead smash that left the Poles flatfooted. A quick Polish recovery followed and they closed out the first set 25-22 to raise eyebrows and catch the Italians on the run.
The Poles dominated the opening stages of the second set, but Italy came back strong and left them little room to move, going on to level 1-1 with a 25-19 victory.
Pasquale Gravina and Fei combined power with finesse to run the Italians up 3 points at 5-2, in the third set, which they extended that lead to 11-7 with great support by Valerio Vermiglio. The Italians looked invincible in the final stages with a nine-point edge from a delicate ace by Fei, and Vermiglio and Papi blocking to 19-9.Luigi Mastrangelo was in the foreground for the Italians in the closing stages, then Papi closed out for a 2-1 lead.
Early magic by Vermiglio, twisting a shot over the net gave the Italians a five-point lead, extended to 10 points ahead just nine minutes into the set. Papi had the honor of the closing point in 18:44 minutes at 25-15 to allow the Italians to leave the court to the rapturous yelling of their Brazilian fans.
France met Yugoslavia in the last match of the day and Yugoslavia wasted no time in surging ahead. Deadly spikes by Boskan and a perfect impenetrable block immediately gave them a 5-point lead. Luc Marquet gave the French two points and high-flying Laurent Capet another, but the spirited French were no match for the might of the Olympic Champions. They won the first set 25-19, helped by the likes of Nikoa Grbic and Ivan Miljkovic. But the French had nothing to lose and took the lead 9-8 in the second. The two sides shadowboxed through the points but Yugoslavia was just too good, too often, closing the match 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-17) In the third set, France's Philippe Barca-Cysique was carried off the court with an ankle injury
Italy and Yugoslavia will contest the semifinals while France plays Poland to see out the tournament.