Cuba 3, Russia 2
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ A sensational comeback by the Cubans was undone by one of the mental mistakes for which they have become known.
Angel Dennis, the most talented hitter on a team loaded with fine athletes, sent his jump serve straight into the net, giving Russia a dramatic 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13 victory Wednesday (Tuesday night EDT) and a spot in the semifinals.
Russia will play the Brazil-Argentina winner in Friday’s first semifinal.
In the other quarterfinals, underdog Australia played tournament favorite Italy, and defending Olympic champion the Netherlands took on Yugoslavia.
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 within 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. He 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 with the Russians, but Dennis was inconsolable, keeping his hands to his face.
Burly, bearded Russian coach Genadi Chipolin, meanwhile, leaped out of his chair and rolled around on the floor as his players raised their arms in victory.
The Cubans, led by Dennis and brothers Osvaldo and Ihosvany Hernandez, played the most breathtaking volleyball of the tournament, but their errors _ whether it was hitting, serving or blocking _ cost them. They were swept by the Netherlands and Brazil, and only made the quarterfinals because Spain and Egypt were so weak in their group.
Cuba’s last Olympic medal was a bronze in 1976, and now the best it can do is fifth.
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.