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Men’s Volleyball Roundup

September 27, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ In Cuba, volleyball players aren’t allowed to join professional leagues, so the Olympics are everything. Like many athletes, their only shot at glory comes along every four years.

It might take that long for Angel Dennis to forgive himself for one glaring mistake.

The Cuban men, who already have an inferiority complex because the women’s team keeps bringing home gold medals, were devastated after their five-game loss to Russia in the semifinals Wednesday (Tuesday night EDT). The match ended with Dennis serving into the net on match point.

Dennis, the most talented player on a team full of them, was inconsolable, literally unable to speak to reporters.

Cuban captain Ihosvany Hernandez also had trouble forcing the words out, but he finally said: ``It was a very difficult match. Both the teams knew what was at stake.″

Russia will play the winner between Brazil and Germany in the semifinals on Friday. Italy will play the Netherlands-Yugoslavia winner.

The Cuba-Russia match was the most anticipated of the quarterfinal round. Cuba long has been one of the world’s best teams, and certainly the most entertaining, but its best Olympic finish was third in 1976.

Russia, which won six straight medals, including three golds, between 1964 and 1988, is trying to return to prominence after a seventh-place finish in Barcelona and a fourth-place showing in Atlanta.

Russia had an 8-3 lead in the fifth game, with the winner needing to reach 15 points and win by two. Cuba came back to take an 11-10 lead with strong blocking, and after Russia surged ahead 14-11, the Cubans rallied once more to get to 14-13.

The drama ended quickly, however, as Dennis hit the ball off the lower part of his palm and into the midsection of the net.

``Every person has a moment in his life when he has extreme luck. Today was that day for us,″ Russian captain Vadim Khamutskikh said after the 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13 victory.

Angel sank to his knees, his head in his hands. Teammate Alan Roca helped him up and took him toward the net for the congratulatory handshaking line with the Russians, but Dennis kept his hands to his face.

``He didn’t fail. He tried his very best,″ Cuban coach Marino Diaz said. ``I’m not going to be too harsh on him, but he’s got to work harder and harder.″

By contrast, burly, bearded Russian coach Genadi Chipolin leaped out of his chair and rolled around on the floor, losing one of his shoes as his players raised their arms in victory.

``Medals are worth losing shoes over,″ Chipolin said. ``It is important not to lose your head and be a coach right to the very end. This is the Olympics. It will leave a mark on my heart forever.″

Italy, which has won the last three world championships and is looking for its first gold medal, advanced by defeating Australia 25-14, 22-25, 25-19, 25-15. But the team was angry at its lazy play against a team making its Olympic debut and with only a few world-class players.

``We played well only every now and then,″ said Italy’s Andrea Gardini, who had rested with three other starters during the final group-match play. ``We played well in the first set and then kind of gave up.″

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