Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 19, 2016 - Italy will be playing in their first Olympic Games final since Athens 2004 and their third overall histrocally, after an intense and spectacular win 3-2 (30-28, 26-28, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9) over the Beijing 2008 gold medallists USA.
In an amazing performance, with rallies that really have to be seen to be believed, Italy countered USA's prowess in blocking (16 stuffs to 7) with an exceptional serving performance of 10 aces to 5.
In Sunday's final Italy will meet either Brazil or Russia, who clash in the other semifinal of the competition, tonight at 22:15.
USA follow the fate of their women's team and will play for bronze against the loser of this evening's other semifinal.
With Italy trailing by four at 19-23 in the first set, Ivan Zaytsev got a kill for the sideout and then stepped up to the service. He pounded the American reception, including a direct ace and two spectacular digs, and got Italy back in the game at 23-23. It took five cancelled USA set balls before Emanuele Birarelli served two aces (one on Aaron Russell that had to be overturned by a linesman after the refs totally missed the touch and a second one on Taylor Sander after the brief interruption to get the first one sorted) to push Italy ahead.
The London 2012 bronze medallists were on track to extend their lead, as they broke away to a 21-18 lead in the second set. But USA reacted with three consecutive stuffs - Dave Lee on Osmany Juantorean followed by two by Max Holt on Zaytsev and Juantorena to bring the score level. USA eventually got it right on their third set point - an ace from Anderson on Filippo Lanza.Osmany Juantorena and Massimo Colaci both go for the ball with a passion and dedication that helped Italy advance to the Rio 2016 final.
Coach Gianlorenzo Blengini rotated his lineup in the third set and when it became apparent that USA were running away with the set he gave up and brought in his reserves, giving a rest to his starters. It all ended in an all-time Olympic low of 25-9, one point less than the 25-10 registered twice in the past.
With that failed experiment out of the way, Blengini brought his rotation back to normal and the game became tight again. Italy were a point behind towards the end, at 22-23, when Zaytsev took to serving again. Simple as you like, he served three consecutive missiles for straight aces, unfazed by neither the need for a challenge to get the second, nor a timeout by USA coach John Speraw in a vain attempt to stop the momemntum.
It was Speraw's turn to rotate his side by one position going into the tie-break. That didn't work either, as Italy, now on an unstoppable roll, gradually built up an edge and led by two points at court switch. The Europeans built up on that, keeping up the pressure from the service line -this time with Simone Buti and Juantorena bringing in the aces, as USA finally ran out of steam and the errors started to creep in.The moment Simne Buti blocks Dave Lee for match and Italy explode with joy at making the Rio 2016 final.
Anderson was top scorer of the game with 25 points (including all five of his team's aces), but it proved insufficient to counter Zaytsev's 21 (also with 5 aces, including the three that clinched the fourth set for Italy).
Quick links - Men's Semifinals - Friday, August 19: Quick links - Women's Finals - Saturday, August 20: