Russia Comes From Behind to Beat Brazil for Men's Volleyball Gold
2012 London Summer Olympics: Men's Volleyball
Russia Comes From Behind to Beat Brazil for Men's Volleyball Gold
With an incredible comeback Russia reversed the course of a final match to win their first Olympic gold in 32 years
After two and a half sets the script of the final match in the men's Olympic tournament was almost completed, with Brazil likely to cruise to their third title, but the South Americans eventually missed out on two match balls before Russia clawed back anchored by a stellar performance of Dmitriy Muserskiy to eventually win gold 32 years after the glorious days of Moscow.
Russia's 3-2 win (19-25, 20-25, 29-27, 25-22 and 15-9) will remain forever associated to giant Dmitriy Muserskiy since coach Vladimir Alekno revolutionized his starting six in set 3 by moving Mikhaylov to wing spiker while Muserskiy took over as opposite.
The 217cm tall player of Lokomotiv Belgorod literally changed the course of the game as he scored 31 points (a record for an Olympic Games final) all alone and he anchored his side to a success that the local volleyball family had been waiting for a long, long time. With this win Russia improved their Olympic record with Brazil to five wins and four losses, extending their lead in the all-time medal tally with 10 medals (four are gold), as Brazil moved up to five, with two gold and three silver. Even though Russia had not stood on top of the podium since 1980, they still had medalled in each edition of the Olympics since 1964 with the only exception being Barcelona 1992 and the Centennial Games celebrated in Atlanta in 1996. This is also the first time Russia won an Olympic final in five sets after the Soviet Union had lost with that score to Poland back in 1976.
After two memorable weeks whereby all records of attendance were broken at Earls Court, Brazil and Russia finally squared off for the final showdown of the Olympic tournament. That was the first time in history these sides were crossing their ways in an Olympic final, even though they have been the major forces to reckon with in the past decades. In a remake of the game they had played in the prelims and that was claimed by Brazil with the score of 3-1, this time much more was at stake as Brazil were vying for their third Olympic title while Russia wanted to return to the top 32 years after the golden days of Moscow.
Brazil showed immediately their intention to emulate their compatriots who had claimed gold on Saturday in the women's final, opening with a 4-1 run that already set the tone for what was going to follow. After their spectacular performance in the semi-final against Italy, the guys in yellow jerseys -- still missing their starting opposite Leandro Vissotto -- looked very determined, so Russian coach Vladimir Alekno rapidly changed his setter with Belarusian-born Alexander Butko replacing Sergey Grankin. After losing four years ago to USA, Brazil really wanted to go for their third Olympic laurel and combined with the women's gold from Saturday that would have certainly made history, the Soviet Union being the sole nation able to take gold in both genders in 1968 and 1980.
Similarly to what had happened in the semi-final with Italy, Wallace de Souza set the pace of Brazil offense well supported by setter Bruno Rezende (11-6) while Russia still struggled to get in the game and profit of their terrific physical potential. Too many errors in all areas of play, and especially from the serving line, helped Brazil keep control of the game, with the defence line including libero Sergio making it very difficult for the Russian giants to score (14-8). Brazil was up by 5 points (16-11) as the teams were called to the sides of the court for the second mandatory stop. Even though things had improved in the last few days, the London Olympics had not been very successful for the Russian delegation and hence an eventual gold medal in volleyball would have been a good way to bid farewell to the UK, but Brazil did not agree with this scenario as Lucas Saatkamp aced for the 18-12 and Wallace was just merciless, spectacularly spiking from the back side of the court. Brazil block also worked perfectly, with Murilo Endres emulating his wife Jaqueline Carvalho who had stood out for the South Americans in yesterday's final with USA. Even though Maxim Mikhaylov and Sergey Tetyukhin played with glowing hearts for the winners of the 2011 FIVB World Cup, still the opening set quite logically ended up in a 25-19 for Brazil.
Earls Court was filled up to full capacity for the final act of the Olympic tournament, with the Brazilian fans easy to recognize via their yellow and green outfits, but quite many Russian flags were being waved every time the heirs of the Soviet school scored a point. Russia started the second set with Grankin back in action to marshal their game, but Brazil was once more playing at the same incredible level displayed on Friday against Italy, bombing the Russian defence with their terrific jump serves. Two aces of Wallace called for the first technical time-out (8-4); in order to fight back Russia had to minimize their errors, something that really did not turn into reality, with Mikhaylov being also less effective than usual.
Russia was missing also the necessary support by their middle blockers and lagged behind by four points halfway through the second set (16-12) but eventually reduced the gap to the slimmest margin (16-15) before the triple world champions could change the gear once more to re-open the lead (19-15) for the joy of their many, always loud and colourful supporters.
Tetyukhin, 36, was the sole Russian spiker able to find a way through the Brazilian block but sometimes he also could not finalize the point for his side, with his opponents responding with the always stellar defence of libero Sergio and marvellous combinations in attack that -- combined with an omnipresent block -- were gradually frustrating the Russian players (22-17). A flurry of set balls were soon there and Brazil could assert their intention to go for gold by sealing the second set as Dante Amaral killed a spike from the left wing (25-20).
With the situation looking a little compromised, everyone was waiting to see the recipe that Russian coach Vladimir Alekno was likely to pick out from his volleyball manual in order to possibly change the course of the game. On the other side of the net, Brazil had already proven in the semi-final with Italy that they could play with this amazing intensity for three sets in a row, so it was basically up to Russia to find the way to stop that storm. After Butko had played for a while in the second set, Grankin was back again to command Russia's set of spikers, but the real recipe was to move Mikhaylov to the position of wing spiker and have Dmitriy Muserskiy -- the tallest player starring at Earls Court, 217 cm -- re-join the game as their diagonal player. It sorted some effects as the score stayed initially close (5-5), and Alekno's was supported in his decision as Muserskiy spiked with incredible power to finally push Russia to the front (8-7). It did not last long as Brazil quickly flipped the score around (11-9); Muserskiy tried to keep alive their hopes (15-15) but the Brazilian "torcida" started in the tribunes as the triple world champions moved up 19-16 and they could gradually see the finish line. Russia attempted a late comeback by levelling the score at 22; the audience got just crazy as legendary captain Giba briefly joined the game by the score of 23-22 for his side, Muserskiy drew level once more but Lucas contributed a match point.
That first opportunity was missed by Brazil but right by the next rally Wallace claimed another one that was annulled by Mikhaylov. The tension was at its climax like it shall be in an Olympic final, and Muserskiy eventually scored for a set ball that only a few could have predicted. Sidnei responded well by scoring from the middle (26 all), but once more the Brazilian block could not stop Muserskiy. Apalikov served into the net for another tie but at the end of an incredible rally Muserskiy spiked for Russia's third set ball and Volkov blocked for the 29-27 and 2-1 that re-opened the fate of the game.
With Muserskiy Russia had finally found the right recipe to at least prolong the game to the fourth set and after having seen volleyball at its best, everyone was wondering what could have been left for the remainder of the match. The Russians got wings on their feet with the adrenaline generated by the final rush of the third set; both teams were taking a good share of risks from the serving line, thereby moving up the figures of the unforced errors. Russia went up by two for the first time at 12-10 and Muserskiy added another point to his count to move the score up to 16-12 with an ace. Russia could finally display their favourite game with huge blocks and the always terrific spikes killed by Muserskiy who by this moment had already chartered 25 points all alone, an all-time record in an Olympic final. Brazil could not stand that pace anymore and was probably already thinking about a strategy to implement in the tie-break, with Russia rushing all the way through to the 2-2 that was pocketed with a service error of Brazil.
Russia kept that great momentum also in the opening of the deciding set (6-3) and it looked like this incredible comeback was going to turn into reality, as Mikhaylov and Muserskiy were playing their best. The teams changed sides as the score stood at 8-4 for Russia and right afterwards, as the game resumed, it was setter Grankin who dared to spike directly onto the Brazilian side of the court, claiming Russia's next point. Impossible was possible for Russia by this moment, and there was no way for Brazil to stop that run, even libero Obmochaev scored a point as he defended a ball that fell right next to the side line and was misjudged by the Brazilians. By the score of 13-6, Russia was confidently sailing to Olympic gold and it was Muserskiy -- who else -- who piled up 7 match balls; Murilo saved one but the next attack of Muserskiy resulted in a block-out, the party started but too early as a fault from the back row was whistled to the Russian giant. Alekno went for a time-out and the match ended -- this time it really ended -- only a few seconds later as Muserskiy scored another cross-court to crush Brazil's dreams of glory (15-9).
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