Late night in Rio was just what the USA needed.
The Americans, who opened the men’s Olympic volleyball tournament with losses to Canada and Italy, rebounded in a big way by taking it right to the home team and beat Brazil in four before a wild crowd of 8,779 at the Maracanazinho arena.
It leaves Pool A up for grabs with three of the five rounds completed.
Friday’s women’s matches
Things should be pretty clear by the time Friday’s competition ends, with four of the five rounds completed.
In Pool A, the USA is already in at 3-0, but China, Serbia and Netherlands are all 2-1. Puerto Rico and Korea are both 0-3 and 0-9 in sets.
— China opens play against Serbia and it’s the most important Pool A match of the day.
— The USA plays Italy and Italy needs a miracle, while the USA wants to secure the top spot in the pool.
— Netherlands plays Puerto Rico and while Puerto Rico is enjoying its historical first Olympics, Netherlands must come away with a big victory.
The USA faces China on Sunday to complete pool play.
In Pool B, Brazil is rolling at 3-0 with three sweeps. Russia is also 3-0. But Korea at 2-1, Japan at 1-2 have yet to clinch spots in the quarterfinals. Cameroon and Argentina, who play each other, are both 0-3 and 0-9 in sets.
— Argentina plays Cameoon in the battle to avoid last place.
— Russia plays Japan as Russia tries keep pace with Brazil.
— Brazil plays Korea and likewise is trying to keep pace with Russia. Brazil plays Russia on Sunday in a match that will likely decide the pool.
Men’s Pool A
Italy is alone at the top at 3-0. France, the USA’s next opponent, and Brazil, are 2-1. Canada, which beat the Americans to start the tournament, and the USA are 1-2. Mexico is out of it at 0-3.
The final: 20-25, 23 -25 25-20, 20-25. Matt Anderson and Aaron Russell had fantastic performances as the Americans stayed alive. Next up is France on Saturday and the USA controls its own destiny.
From the USA Volleyball account of the match:
The U.S. Men had not beaten Brazil in an FIVB match since the 2014 World League final. But after losing their first two Olympic matches to Canada and Italy, the U.S. Men viewed Thursday’s match as having the importance of a final.
“That is what we needed tonight,” U.S. Men’s Head Coach John Speraw said. “This is the Olympic Games and we haven’t been playing well. In order for us to get a win against a great team in this environment we were going to have to fight for every point. Our guys did a great job at that.”
The U.S. passing improved dramatically, led by U.S. libero Erik Shoji, who was credited with 13 digs. Outside hitter Taylor Sander was credited with five digs and 10 excellent receptions.
“They have really good servers,” Shoji said. “We just had to fight off the serves. Some of (the passes) weren’t perfect. We can go back and make some of those betters. Overall, we just stuck together as a team with the three of us passing (Sander, Shoji and outside hitter Aaron Russell) and even Matt (Anderson). We’re just solid and that’s USA Volleyball and we’re really happy with that.
The U.S. Men cut down their errors, particularly in the first set where they scored eight points on Brazil’s errors while committing only four.
The U.S. led 9-6 in aces, led by setter Micah Christenson with four, and 8-6 in blocks, led by Sander with three.
“I was very pleased with the continued improvement of our team,” Speraw said. “I thought we played a much better match against Italy than Canada and we played an even better game tonight especially at the service line. Our games were very aggressive and maintained that pressure throughout the course of the volleyball match. Ultimately, as in most volleyball matches, the serve and pass was the difference.”
Setter Micah Christenson helped the team to a .363 hitting efficiency while Brazil hit .306.
“I think it was a collective effort,” Christenson said. “It took every single person scrapping every single ball to pull that out and to inspire everyone… Matt is scoring points for us and Aaron’s scoring points for us. But Erik Shoji’s making digs and Max Holt’s laying out making digs and he’s a middle blocker. You don’t expect a ton of those.”
Italy 3, Mexico 0
With the USA beating Brazil, Italy is alone atop the pool at 3-0 after beating Mexico 25-17, 25-13, 25-17.
And now Brazil has to deal with Italy.
“The next matches will be definitely harder, especially against Brazil,” Italy coach Gianlorenzo Blengini, said. “We know that they are one of the favorites because they are playing at home. For sure the stadium will be packed and it would be fantastic to play in that match.”
Filippo Lanza was Italy’s top scorer with 14 points Ivan Zaytsev added 11.
France 3, Canada 0
France beat Canada 25-19, 25-16, 25-19 to move closer to a quarterfinal spot.
They are teams going in different directions. The French lost to Italy to open the tournament but then beat Mexico. Canada opened with a victory over the USA but lost to Brazil.
“I am very proud of my team after the tough start that we got. It was not easy to play at this level against Canada,” French coach Laurent Tillie said.
“I think we responded in a good way, but it’s not yet finished because we have one more win to be qualified to the quarterfinals. We are happy tonight but we need to be focused on the next game.
“Where we are now, we are just looking to get out of group play.”
Earvin Ngapeth led France with 21 points, including three aces and two blocks, and Antonin Rouzier 13 points.
Nicholas Hoag had 11 points for Canada and Gavin Schmitt added nine.
“They (France) were better than us in every category,” Canada’s Fred Winters said. “We were not so bad in attacks, but we struggled with our pass, reception and digging.
“It is a disappointing loss because in this tournament you only have five guaranteed matches. Not winning a single point in this match could prove to be very costly for us.”
Men’s Pool B
With three of the five rounds completed, Poland is the only team at 3-0 and guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals. Winless Cuba is out. Now the other four teams, Russia (2-1), Argentina (2-1), Iran (1-2) and Egypt (1-2) are trying not only to advance but better their situation and not finish fourth.
Russia 3, Egypt 0
Russia’s victory was the most lopsided of the tournament 25-11, 25-17, 25-9 and it has some records from the match to prove it. The 25-9 score was the biggest margin of Olympic victory since Spain beat Egypt by the same score 2000 and Poland against Egypt in 2008.
It was also the shortest match in men’s Olympic history, 54 minutes. The previous quickest was in 2008 when Serbia beat Egypt in 56 minutes.
Artem Volvich and Maxim Mikhaylov led Russia with 14 and 13 points, respectively, and Volvich had eight blocks. Russia also set an Olympics record by out-blocking Egypt 25-9.
“Today everyone did their job and our tactics worked perfectly and according our plan,” Russia’s Sergey Tetyukhin said. “Everything is all right in our team and our blocking today was fantastic with Volvich at his best.
“The match also gave us the chance to use some of our reserve players and they showed they are capable of doing a good job. “
Egypt coach Ashraf Abouelhassan recognized that there is a huge disparity between the teams.
“Russia is one of the best teams in the world and the defending Olympic champions. I am sure we will have better performances in our next matches in the group.”
Russia plays Poland in what will be a key match on Saturday.
Poland 3, Argentina 0
Yes it was a sweep, but it had the set of the tournament as Poland won 25-21, 25-19, 37-35.
“The match was harder than what the score shows,” Poland’s Michal Kubiak said. “We knew it was going to be a difficult match against Argentina. They played amazing in the third set and we played a little bit better.”
That third set seemingly went on forever, with great plays, more missed serves than you could imagine, and, oddly, for the match both teams had 49 kills and 23 unforced errors.
“Argentina and Poland are teams with similar characteristics so they match up very well,” Poland coach Stephane Antiga said. “Our setter (Grzegorz Lomacz) played a great game a spread the ball out well to all the good spikers we have. The match was much harder than the third set and the good thing is that we were able to maintain the aggressiveness. I am really happy with everything.”
Karol Klos led Poland with 14 points, Bartosz Kurek had12 and Kubiak and Mateusz Bieniek 10 each.
Facundo Conte and Jose Luis González led Argentina with 13 points apiece.
Iran 3, Cuba 0
Two winless teams faced off and Iran came away with the sweep 25-21, 31-29, 25-16.
“Our team has played at the same level we did against Poland, very similar,” Iran coach Raul Lozano said. “The only difference was that the other match was against Poland and this one against a young Cuban team.
“I liked our consistency and continuity. I was pleased with our first set and part of the second set. In the third set we were able to cover from the Cuban attack.”
Next up for Iran is Egypt, so Iran has a good shot at getting to 2-2 before a last-day match against Russia. Cuba plays Argentina on Saturday.