Italy 3, Australia 1
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ A sensational comeback by the Cubans was undone when their best player committed the simplest of mistakes.
Angel Dennis, the most talented hitter on a volleyball 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 Olympic semifinals.
Dennis was so distraught after the match that he couldn’t speak, but coach Marino Diaz said if it weren’t for Dennis, the Cubans wouldn’t have gotten close.
``He didn’t fail. He tried his very best,″ Diaz said. ``I’m not going to be too harsh on him, but he’s got to work harder and harder.″
Russia will play the Brazil-Argentina winner in Friday’s first semifinal.
In another quarterfinal, tournament favorite Italy dropped a set to heavy underdog Australia before recovering to win 25-14, 22-25, 25-19, 25-15. Italy will play the winner between the defending Olympic champion Netherlands and 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 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,″ said Russian captain Vadim Khamutskikh. ``Today was that day for us.″
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 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, 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.″
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, from 1964 to 1988, is trying to return to prominence after a seventh-place finish in Barcelona and a fourth-place showing in Atlanta.
Italy, which has won the last three world championships and is looking for its first gold medal, started off well, having rested four of its starters against the United States in the final group-play match.
Then the Italians got lazy in the second game against an Australian team making its Olympic debut and with only a few world-class players.
Italy turned it around in the third game when it pulled away from a one-point lead behind the hitting of Samuele Papi and Alessandro Fei. A putback slam by Fei ended an 8-2 run that essentially put away the game at 23-16.
Italy rolled to an 18-5 lead to start the fourth.