Cuba, Brazil, China advance in women's volleyball

Aug. 19, 2008, 12:29 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The U.S. women's volleyball team defeated Italy in five sets Tuesday to advance to the semifinal round against Cuba.

The United States got off to a slow start but prevailed 20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 15-6 over the Italians.

The U.S. team, which has lost just one of six matches so far, will face a tough challenge in Cuba, which remained undefeated in Beijing with a three-set victory over Serbia earlier Tuesday.

Cuba, ranked No. 3 in the world, had a three-set victory over Serbia (26-24, 25-19, 26-24).

Even at 24 in the first set, captain Yumilka Ruiz's spike gave Cuba the advantage. The Serbs complained to the referee when captain Vesna Citakovic's fault on a block proved to be set point.

Serbia kept making key mistakes, and Cuba won the second set on Jelena Nikolic's serve error.

After falling behind 21-23 in the third, Cuba prevailed, winning on Nancy Carillo's block.

"We fought, we gave it our best," Citakovic said. "But we also made some stupid mistakes."

Jovana Brakocevic led Serbia with 16 points. Carillo had 12 for Cuba.

Cuba coach Antonio Perdomo Estrella patted Citakovic on the back after the match, sensing the team hadn't played its best.

"Certainly our team has to play better the next two games to win," he said.

China, which won the gold medal in Athens, defeated Russia 25-22, 27-25 25-19 earlier to advance to a semifinal match against undefeated Brazil.

"We played and we fought and we won," China captain Kun Feng said. "We know that in future matches we will do the same."

Upset by the United States and Cuba in preliminary pool play, China took the close first set on an errant spike by 2.03-meter (6-foot-8) Ekaterina Gamova of Russia.

China trailed in the second set, but Yimei Wang's ace evened it at 19 and Yunwen Wa's block put the team ahead. But Russia kept rising to the challenge until China scored the final two points on Ruirui Zhao's spike, followed by Elena Godina's misplayed spike attempt.

Wang had another ace to pull China out front 21-18 in the third set and Ming Xue's block won it. As the Beijing crowd roared, the Chinese women hopped in a huddle on the court. Suhong Zhou cried.

Afterward, Russia captain Marina Sheshenina sat with her head in her hands.

"What I want to say to my fans, I want to apologize to them because we will not have the opportunity to fight for the gold," she said.

The two teams met in the final in Athens in 2004 with the Chinese women prevailing 3-2.

Brazil easily defeated Japan in three sets (25-12, 25-20, 25-16) earlier Tuesday to advance.

"I think we are playing good technically, physically and mentally," Brazil's Sheilla Castro said. "We are doing our best all around."

Japan simply could not keep up with the taller and faster Brazilians, who won the first set when Erika Araki's spike fell out.

Paula Pequeno's block sealed the second set for the Brazilians.

When Japan took a 7-5 lead in the final set, Sheilla, as she is known, made a statement with a spike that knocked Yuko Sano over. Fabiana Claudino's spike was the match winner.

Marianne Steinbrecher and Fabiana, as she is known, each had 14 points for Brazil. Saori Kimura had 10 for Japan.

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