Brazil play world-class volleyball to rout Italy and make it to Olympic final
Brazil’s supremacy was even a little embarrassing in the second set where the players coached by Bernardo Rezende displayed a full array of combinations that totally routed any resistance opposed by the Italians. Brazil will go for their third Olympic title on Sunday – after finishing first already in 1992 and 2004 – while Italy will play Bulgaria in the classification match, thereby hoping to add another medal to their own Olympic showcase that already includes one silver and two bronze. Murilo Endres and Cristian Savani top scored in the match with 15 points each but Brazil’s dominance at the net is well testified by the stats relating the blocks (10 vs. 3) and the spikes (Italy could finalize only 28 out of their 82 attempts).
Supporters from Italy and Brazil contributed a splendid atmosphere at Earls Court for the second semi-final of the men’s tournament that started with an ace by Ivan Zaytsev and two terrific spikes killed by Wallace de Souza to quickly set the tone for a match whereby the triple world champions were trying to qualify for their third consecutive Olympic final. Even though opposite Leandro Vissotto was not included in the starting six of Bernardo Rezende, Brazil caught a good start before Italy could draw level for the first time on an ace by their veteran middle-blocker Luigi Mastrangelo. The “Azzurri” even got to the front a few moments later but either side could stretch that lead, as their respective attackers were very effective with their side-outs. Brazil eventually went up by 2 points at 13-11 but Italy diagonal player Michal Lasko was quick enough to claim the next rally and a spectacular ace contributed by team captain Cristian Savani restored the balance. A lot of fighting spirit was to be seen out there on court and it was Brazilian star Murilo Endres who called for the second technical time-out by scoring from the back line for the provisional 16-14. As their defence worked well and their block was well positioned, the South Americans moved ahead once more (18-15) but Italy was not keen to surrender that easily, scoring the next two rallies, so that Bernardo was finally obliged to ask for his first break of the set. His guys responded well by claiming the next couple of points and Italy coach Berruto brought in 39-year old Samuele Papi for Ivan Zaytsev in an effort to stabilize his defence line. However, Wallace de Souza spiked once again for Brazil to widen the gap (21-17), but Italy’s hopes were not yet gone (21-19); finally, the heirs of the golden generation that had dominated the volleyball arena through the ‘90s did not exploit their chances in the final section of the set that was claimed by Brazil as Savani served into the net (25-21).
That fight re-started in set 2 with Brazil quickly going up 5-1 via the terrific serves of Lucas Saatkamp and stretching the lead up to five points by the first mandatory stop. The match was quickly turning into an uphill climb for Italy as the margin enjoyed by the 2008 silver medallists was getting more and more impressive (11-6). Brazil were asserting their rule in all fundamentals displaying a quick and spectacular game – actually the one you may well expect from a squad that has swept the last three editions of the World Championship – while Italy’s spikers could not find a way to break Brazil’s wall at the net (18-8). Even some changes – particularly the addition of outside hitter Simone Parodi – could not change the course of the game, with Brazil finalizing a couple of spectacular actions in defence to go up 20-10 as their fans were standing on their feet, totally captured by the unique appeal of volleyball played at its very best. Even though they had gone through ups and downs in their lead-up to the Olympics, well, Brazil had certainly more than adjusted their play for the event of the year and once again the set was sealed by a serving error of Savani, but this time with the devastating score of 25-12.
Italy finally found their way back in the game in the early phases of set 3 (5-3, 8-6) as Brazil’s concentration had – quite understandably – a little dropped down after playing with such intensity and quality for two sets. Back on court as he was trying to emulate his father Vyacheslav – an Olympic champion with the Soviet Union back in 1980 – Ivan Zaytsev fired a real rocket from the serving line for the provisional 9-6 but Brazil fought back to balance the score at 11 all, with Murilo Endres attacking from the back row to turn the tables around for the first time (13-12). After a little break, Brazil was back at full power with their fans that started their traditional “torcida” as the Olympic final did not look out of reach any longer.
With a small cushion of three points at the second technical time-out, Brazil could confidently re-start the game and although Italy tried to surge back lately (23-21), the South Americans pushed all the way through cruising to a more than well-deserved straight-set win that was pocketed in front of an ecstatic audience.