LATIN flair will meet Eastern European steel in the Olympic men’s volleyball final as Brazil and Russia both won their semi-final encounters on Friday to set up a gold-medal showdown between the two top-ranked teams.
Russia overcame underdogs Bulgaria 3-1 in a testing four-set encounter, before Brazil entered the simmering Earls Court arena to romp past Italy 3-0 with the backing of some raucous samba supporters.
Neither side was made to work unduly hard for their victories, but both came through their semi-finals with differing degrees of swagger and panache.
Brazil were full of skill and verve, defending with gravity-defying athleticism, while Russia, led by two giants in Dmitriy Muserskiy and Maxim Mikhaylov, were ruthlessly efficient.
For Brazil it will be their third successive final and an opportunity to reclaim the title they won in Athens and ceded four years ago in Beijing.
Brazil fans had lined the streets en route to the Earls Court arena from early in the afternoon, clamouring for any spare tickets.
By the time the twice champions stepped on court, the arena was populated with hordes of green and yellow clad fans who created a deafening din that lasted from the first point to the last.
The match was only a contest in fleeting moments. After edging the first set the world’s highest ranked team streaked away with the second and rounded off the match comfortably in the third.
“That is the best we have played all tournament. I think it was our best match in the last two years,” Brazil’s Bruno Rezende said following their 25-21, 25-12, 25-21 win.
If Brazil were cheered into the final then Russia had to battle a strongly partisan Bulgarian support base to edge past their semi-final opponents.
Only a spattering of Russian fans made it to the afternoon match to watch their physically imposing team steamroller their way into a two-set lead.
Russia have gone 32 years since they won men’s volleyball gold and have lost two finals in the intervening years.
“It’s our country’s dream, fans’ dream, everybody’s dream to win gold at the Olympics,” the 2.02m Mikhaylov said after his team had wrapped up a 25-21, 25-15, 23-25, 25-23 victory. — Reuters