Russia, Italy reach men's volleyball semifinals

Aug. 20, 2008, 2:39 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The Russian men's volleyball team advanced to the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics in a 3-1 victory over Bulgaria on Wednesday that was marred by controversy.

Russia went up 20-15 in the second set after a spike by Bulgaria's Plamen Konstantinov's was ruled out. Bulgarian coach Martin Stoev was warned after complaining to referees, pointing to the video scoreboard at the 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. 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," Konstantinov explained. "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 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.

Russia, ranked second in the world behind Brazil, will play the United States, which came from behind to defeat Serbia in five sets (20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12) in the late match and remain unbeaten in Beijing.

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

The young Serbians came out determined, jumping ahead 8-3 early and taking the first set when Stanley Clayton couldn't stop Milos Nikic's spike.

The United States made adjustments in the second and led for most of the way until Riley Salmon's unsuccessful spike put Serbia ahead 19-18. The U.S. team came out on top, however, when Nikic couldn't block Reid Priddy's spike at the net.

The Serbians were persistent in the third, coming from behind early to win it on Dejan Bojovik's ace. But the United States regained its focus in the fourth, which was won on Stanley's ace.

In the deciding set, Serbia took an early 7-4 lead, and it appeared the momentum was all theirs. But the United States took a time out and got back in it, and Stanley's key block made it 13-10. From there, the U.S. team held off Serbia to finish it on Riley Salmon's spike.

"I'd be lying if I said we weren't anxious," Priddy said. "I don't think nervous is the right word for it. I don't think there is a word for it."

Also, Italy defeated Poland 3-2 (25-19, 25-22, 18-25, 26-28, 17-15) to set up a semifinal matchup against defending Olympic champion Brazil, which easily eliminated China 25-17, 25-15, 25-16. Brazil beat Italy in the final at Athens four years ago.

Earlier, 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 Olympic games.

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.

Russia won the bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The Polish team, which upset Russia in five sets in the preliminary round, was cheered by a large and boisterous section of fans, many waving flags. Every time the Italian fans tried to rally their team with chants of "It-al-ia!" the Polish group would drown them out with a "Pol-ska!" chant.

Poland 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.

Even the home court advantage failed to lift the Chinese, who had made their first trip to the Olympics in 24 years.

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