Beijing, China, August 19, 2008 - Defending Olympic champions China, three-time Olympic gold medallists Cuba, World No. 1 Brazil and emerging threat USA advanced to the semi-finals of the Women's Olympic Volleyball Tournament in Beijing on Tuesday.
Cuba, Olympic gold-medal winners in 1992, 1996 and 2000, beat Serbia in straight sets (26-24, 25-19, 26-24) in front of 12,500 spectators at Capital Indoor Stadium in the first match the day. The Cubans now face USA in the semi-final after the Americans beat the Azzurri in five sets (20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 15-6) in the final match of the day.
In-between, Brazil blanked Japan (25-12, 25-20, 25-16) in their quarter-final in front of 12,500 and will play China in the last four after the hosts downed Russia in straight sets (25-22, 27-25, 25-19), watched by a fervent crowd of 13,000. The Brazilians are yet to drop a set in the tournament.
The Women's semi-final matches are on Thursday, August 21. Cuba and USA face each other at Capital Indoor Stadium at 12:30 local time, before China and Brazil face each other at 20:00 local time at the same venue.
Cuba 3 - Serbia 0
Cuba moved into the semi-finals after beating Serbia in straight sets (26-24, 25-19, 26-24) at the Capital Indoor Stadium. The first set began with Serbia's Jelena Nikolic and Rosir Calderon as the big hitters as the lead switched from one side to the other. While Cuba had clear attacking advantages, their reception and ball handling errors meant they failed to build a lead and the score was even at 24-24. However, a debatable net-violation by Serbia ended the first set 26-24 in Cuba's favour. As the match continued, Cuba strengthened their blocking and dominated at the net while Serbia failed to raise their game and make the necessary attacking adjustments. Nancy Carrillo's hit on target led Cuba to the second set. Cuba carried on their winning momentum and dominated at the net early in the third set. Serbia though closed the scoring gap using lighter tip-off and touch-out spikes to avoid Cuba's blocking. A triple-block from Ivana Djerisilo, Maja Ognjenovic and Vesna Citakovic then saw Serbia edge ahead by two points. Finally Carrillo's blocking won the third set and match for the Cubans 26-24 who will now play either Italy or USA in the semi-finals on Thursday, August 21. Cuba Head Coach Antonio Perdomo said: "We're pleased with this victory, and with the (subsequent) opportunity to fight for the medals. It was a tough match and Serbia are a tough team. They did very well today, they fought from the beginning to the end of the match, so it was not easy. Although we won the match, we were not playing at 100 per cent and our opponent was strong. So it was a tough game. But I think it was a good thing for us. If we had performed easily and won easily we would be too relaxed and lose motivation and I hope we can play better in future matches."
Japan 0 - Brazil 3
World No. 1 Brazil continued its unbeaten run in the Beijing Games, needing only 73 minutes to blitz Japan in the quarter-finals on Tuesday. The reward is a semi-final clash against host and reigning Olympic champions China on Thursday. Japan, having played with good defence but underperforming in attack since the preliminaries, was in a different league compared to a mightier Brazilian team, losing the first set 25-12. The Japanese only racked up six points in attacking to 13 from Brazil, and one service point to six of the Brazilian team. The Japanese women, however, raised their game in the second set, scoring 14 winners, but still six behind the Brazilian, who looked in a class of their own, with each player except for the libero scoring from every corner on the court. After dropping the second set 25-20, Japan were still keeping a high momentum and, on the back of their strong defence, the team led for the first time in the match when they were up 9-8 in the third set. But it turned out to be a flash in the pan as the Brazilian team found their range quickly and used an 8-3 run for a comfortable 16-12 lead at the second technical timeout. On the resumption, the Japanese were in serious trouble, watching their opponents reel off the next five points for a 21-12 cushion. After a sizzling strike from Fabiana Claudino, Brazil closed out the match 25-16. Brazil Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes said: "I'm happy again to win this game. It's always difficult to play against Japan and look at the scores, the match was close. We need patience to fight against Japan, and for me it is most important that we win." Brazil captain Helia Souza said: "Irrespective of the result today, Japan played well and fought till the end. We served well, it was a tough match, but we made every effort. I can't predict the results of the quarterfinals, but we will prepare for and defeat any opponent."
China 3 - Russia 0
China beat Russia in straight sets 25-22, 27-25, 25-19 at Capital Indoor Stadium to advance to a semi-final with Brazil on Thursday. China committed three attacking errors early in the first set, with Russian hitters Evgenia Estes and Ekaterina Gamova converting for an early lead. Yimei Wang, usually an offensive option for China, was forced to play in the backcourt, but the rest of the team rallied. China eventually took set point from an attack from Hao Yang and Gamova's attack on the opposite side hit the antenna, which clinched the set 25-22. Suhong Zhou and Ruirui Zhao kept their composure and ran China's offence exceptionally in the second set, with only Gamova's offence keeping the Russia in the match. The end of the second set was close as China and Russia changed leads but when Liubov "Sokolova" Shashkova hit long and Maria Sheshenina double-hit, China took the second set 27-25. Russia again took a lead in the third set but when Wang's attack got going, China sped away with the set and match. China captain Kun Feng said: "This was a very important game for us, we are so happy that we won because we knew that Russia is a very strong team. In the quarterfinals there are no weak teams, so we knew we must win every point, so we fought for each point and were successful in the end. This victory did not come easily. In the preliminary round we suffered set-backs, we lost two matches and we knew we needed to control our emotions in order to succeed."
USA 3 - Italy 2
The USA came from behind to beat Italy in five sets at Capital Indoor Stadium. With Italy holding a two-sets-to-one lead, the USA scored the first eight points of the fourth set to wrest momentum from the Italians. The Americans then finished the match strongly, dominating the fifth-set tie-breaker and allowing Italy just six points to record a famous win. In a close first set, scores were tied at 15-15 before Taismary Aguero blocked a back-slide hit by Heather Bown and the Italians took the ascendancy. Francesca Piccinini scored the last two points in the first set for Italy to take it 25-20. The USA shot out to a 5-1 lead in the second set before several ball-handling and attacking errors allowed the Italians to close the gap. USA regained the lead after bringing in Kim Willoughby to hit on the wings, and the USA defenders successfully dug the opposite-side attacks of Nadia Centoni. Tayyiba Haneef-Park hit relentlessly on the right side, and Logan Tom levelled the match at one set apiece, the USA winning the second set 25-21. In the third set, Piccinini made a drop shot to increase Italy's lead to 10-3, with the Americans looking helpless as Italy bombarded them with bullet-like spikes. While the USA made a run, led by Danielle Scott-Arruda and Willoughby, Italy guarded their lead well and finished the third set on another Piccinini drop shot. Berg was the catalyst for the USA's comeback in the fourth set, sparking the Americans to an 8-0 lead. While Italy made a comeback, the USA forced the match to a tie-break with a 25-18 set win, and then dominated the extra period to book a place in the semi-finals against Cuba. Tom was the standout for the USA with 14 kills, three blocks and two aces. But Berg really decided the match on serve. USA captain Robyn Ah Mow-Santos said: "We had a couple of meetings earlier on (Tuesday) and we knew it was going to be a difficult match, and that we were the underdogs. I want to give thanks to Lindsey Berg for coming in and firing up the team." Berg said: "I just do whatever I can and seize every opportunity. Great thanks to my team for their support."
Women's final standings so far
Joint 5: Italy, Japan, Russia, Serbia
Joint 9: Kazakhstan, Poland
Joint 11: Algeria, Venezuela
Men's quarter-finals: Wednesday, August 20
10:00 Bulgaria (A3) - Russia (B2)
12:00 Italy (A2) - Poland (B3)
20:00 China (A4) - Brazil (B1)
22:00 USA (A1) - Serbia (B4)
The winner of USA - Serbia will meet the winner of Bulgaria and Russia in one semi-final and the winners of Italy - Poland and China - Brazil will meet in the other semi-final.
Volleyball legend Andrea Zorzi is blogging from Beijing with his popular "Follow Me" blog, linked to the FIVB website. Today Zorzi analyses Tuesday's Women's quarter-final matchups.