Russia, Italy, US, Brazil advance in volleyball

Aug. 20, 2008, 2:50 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The U.S. men's volleyball team came from behind to beat tenacious Serbia in five sets to advance to the Olympic semifinals against Russia.

The United States remained undefeated in Beijing with the dramatic 20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12 victory Wednesday night.

Brazil will play Italy in the other semifinal match on Friday.

The U.S. team overcame tragedy to win all five of its matches in preliminary pool play, while Serbia went 2-3 to advance to the quarterfinals.

The Serbians went up 2-1 on the U.S. team, but the Americans rallied to take the fourth set. Down 7-4 in the deciding set, a timeout calmed the United States down and they emerged with the win.

"That's probably the biggest match of my Olympic career," said setter Lloy Ball, who is playing in his fourth Olympics.

The U.S. won Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988, before winning the bronze in 1994. But the closest they've gotten since then was a fourth-place finish at the 2004 Athens games.

The Brazilian men's volleyball team, ranked No. 1 in the world, cruised to a three-set victory Wednesday night to advance to the Olympic semifinal round, where it will face Italy.

Although backed by the fans at Capital Indoor Stadium, the Chinese hosts never posed a threat to Brazil.

Hairong Shi could only try in vain to block Giba's spike to win the second set. The captain of the Brazil team, Gilberto Godoy Filho, is popularly known as Giba, the name he wears on his jersey. He is considered one of the best attackers in volleyball.

Brazil, which defeated China 25-17, 25-15, 25-16, won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens games and is considered the favorite in Beijing. The team has also won the past two World Cups and the past two World Championships.

The Chinese, making their first trip to the Olympics in 24 years, had not played Brazil since 2005.

Afterward, there was no disappointment on the Chinese team's faces. They had known they were up against an insurmountable challenge.

"We tried our best on the court, and we enjoyed the process of the game," captain Shen Qiong said.

The Russian men's volleyball team also advanced to the semifinals with a 3-1 victory Wednesday over Bulgaria.

Russia, which won the bronze medal in Athens, went up 20-15 in the second set after Plamen Konstantinov's spike for Bulgaria was ruled out. Bulgarian coach Martin Stoev was warned after complaining to referees and pointing to the video scoreboard replay.

Stoev got a yellow card for the outburst, and Russia was awarded another point.

Russia went on to win the set on Yury Berezhko's block.

"I'm a little bit disappointed about some of the referee decisions made during the set," Konstantinov said. "There were three points in a row that he gave to Russia. The referee called me over and said that our coach would get a yellow card if he continued to talk to the second referee, and after I turned around he gave the coach a yellow card. This gave Russia the chance to wake up. It was the most important moment of the match."

The Bulgarians, despite the constant urging of middle blocker Evgeni Ivanov, could not could mount any kind of rally. Russia won it (20-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-21) on Sergey Tetyukhin's successful block of Konstantinov's spike.

Bulgaria's run in Beijing was marked by drama involving Konstantinov. The Bulgarian captain missed the team's first three matches while he went home to Bulgaria to get a drug test, after rumors swirled about possible doping.

Anger over what transpired in the second set against Russia only added to the Olympic odyssey for the Bulgarians.

"I do not understand it," Konstantinov said, shaking his head. The Bulgarian captain has said Beijing would be his last Olympics.

Russian coach Vladimir Alenko, meanwhile, praised the Bulgarian team for its tenacity.

"We Russians need difficulties in order to overcome them," he said. "That's what happened in this game."

Maxim Mikhaylov led Russia with 17 points, while Matey Kaziyski had 24 for Bulgaria.

Italy, which claimed the silver medal in Athens, defeated Poland 3-2 (25-19, 25-22, 18-25, 26-28, 17-15), to set up the semifinal match against Brazil.

The Polish team forced a deciding set when Michal Winiarski aced to give Poland the fourth. The tense final was even at 15, when Valerio Vermiglio's hit fell unreturned, and Matteo Martino's successful spike won it.

Mauro Gavotto led Italy with 20 points.