Olympic Volleyball 2012: Men's Semifinals Results, Grades, Analysis and More
The semifinals of the men's volleyball tournament at the 2012 Olympics gave Russia a chance to showcase its power, though it took a little longer and got closer than anyone would have liked against Bulgaria.
With the finals set for Sunday, there will be ample time to dissect what will happen when Russia and Brazil lock horns.
For now, here is a look back at what transpired in both men's semifinal matches, as well as grades and top performers from these two games.
Russia vs. Bulgaria
Russia used a strong, powerful, overwhelming attack to beat down Bulgaria in the first semifinal. It was a clear mismatch from the start, even though the first set ended with just a four-point margin, 25-21. A 25-15 second set destruction put Russia in the driver's seat.
As they have throughout these Olympics, Bulgaria battled back by winning the third set, 25-23. Despite the set victory, the hole was too great for Bulgaria to climb out of. Russia battled back in the third set with a 25-23 win to seal a trip to the gold medal match.
Bulgaria was already a surprise semifinalist, so to see the Russians have success was expected, though it did get interesting late.
Russia's confidence, which has not been lacking throughout these Olympics, will never be higher as it prepares to play for a gold medal on Sunday.
Maksim Mikhaylov: A
The long, lanky 6'8" superstar dominated this match for Russia, proving to be the star of the show. He finished the match with 25 points on 21 spikes, two serves and two blocks.
Mikhaylov was the difference in this match, as he set the tone early and came through late when Russia needed him the most.
Taras Khtey: B+
Khtey bounced back after a fairly mediocre performance against Poland in the quarterfinals when he had just five points. He finished with 13 points against Bulgaria, including 12 spikes.
It was a one-dimensional performance, but it gave Russia the spark needed in order to close out the match.
Tsvetan Sokolov: B+
Bulgaria needed at least one star-level performance in order to defeat Russia in the semifinals. That never came, though Sokolov was very good in his role.
At 6'9", he was asked to jump up and spike the ball as hard as possible. He had great success, to the tune of 15 points via spikes, but he did not contribute much of anything else. It was a solid showing against a very good team. It just wasn't enough.
Todor Aleksiev: C+
Aleksiev took a huge step back following a solid all-around game against Germany in the quarterfinals. He did have a lot of points (15) thanks to spikes, but he was not very efficient with a conversion percentage of 33.
Perhaps the expectations were too high, but you are hoping to see more since he was such a vital part of what Bulgaria was able to do up to this point.
Brazil vs. Italy
Brazil hasn't exactly had a flawless road to the gold-medal match, but it doesn't matter how you make it there, as long as you're still alive in the end. That is the case for Brazil as it thoroughly dominated an upstart Italian team and will play against Russia for gold in the men's volleyball final.
The Brazilians had to settle for silver in Beijing after winning gold in Athens, and they will look to repeat the feat from 2004 on Sunday. Italy making it to the semis was a great story as they shocked a United States team that was expected to medal, but it was outclassed on Friday.
Italy did its best to put up a fight, but sometimes talent simply wins out over effort. The Brazilians turned in a great effort in their own right, though, so they absolutely deserved the win.
Wallace de Souza: A
Wallace de Souza is considered by most to be the best player on one of the world's best teams, and he proved that to be true on Friday. The 25-year-old, 6'6" opposite hitter is a dominant physical force and he imposed his will on the overmatched Italians with 11 spikes in the match.
De Souza was almost automatic when he went up for a kill, and the front line of the Italians couldn't do anything to stop him. He will have to be equally as good on Sunday when he and Brazil go for gold against Russia.
Dante Amaral: A
Although de Souza may have been the more noticeably dominant player on the court, Brazil couldn't have won as handily as it did without the play of Dante Amaral. The 31-year-old veteran put in his fair share of spikes as well, but he was also one of Brazil's best servers and led the team in blocks with two.
Amaral is one of the team's most important leaders, and that will be huge for them moving forward. He has come to play in this tournament and the younger players are going to follow his lead, which should bode well for Brazil against Russia.
Cristian Savani: B+
Cristian Savani came up huge in Italy's major upset of the United States in the quarterfinals, but he couldn't do it all on his own against Brazil. Savani was truly the only person who came to play for Italy on Friday as he racked up 15 points and did all he could to keep Italy's surprising run alive.
The 30-year-old star represented his country well and took them further than anyone thought they could go, and his work isn't done yet. Italy has a bronze-medal match to play against Bulgaria and should stand a good chance if Savani continues to play like this.
Ivan Zaytsev: F
Savani may have been the driving force behind Italy's win over Team USA, but Ivan Zaytsev had a lot to do with it as well. I'm not sure if he decided to rest on his laurels after a career performance, but he wasn't anywhere near the same player against Brazil.
Zaytsev had a measly four points on the match and was, for all intents and purposes, a non-factor. Italy really wasn't all that competitive against Brazil, and Zaytsev's no-show was one of the main reasons for that. He'll have to be much better if Italy is going to reach the podium, though.
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