Brazil reigns supreme

WHEN the spectators back a team, it definitely adds strength to the team. Brazil had won everything and was ready to crown itself as the supreme force in international volleyball.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

WHEN the spectators back a team, it definitely adds strength to the team. Brazil had won everything and was ready to crown itself as the supreme force in international volleyball. The team has style and strength, flair and fire-power. Overall, there was a passion for excellence.

Gilberto Godoy Filho of Brazil is ecstatic after his team has beaten Italy in the final. He was voted the Most Valuable Player in the competition. -- Pic. REUTERS-

The team had won the World Championship, World Cup and the World League titles before it reached Athens to win the Olympic gold.

The mission was accomplished without much fuss, as Brazil downed Italy, 25-15, 24-26, 25-20, 25-22, in the beautiful Peace and Friendship Stadium, in the final. It was Brazil's third Olympic medal.

With its all-round strength, Brazil was able to bounce back from the second-set loss to beat the Italians for the gold.

"We were here for the first place. Every player had this and only this in his mind. I am so happy,'' said Gilberto Godoy Filho, one of the top players of Brazil.

Quite appropriately, Godoy Filho was voted the Most Valuable Player, and he ended up with 126 points in the tournament, the third best behind Andrea Sartoretti (137) of Italy and Marcos Milinkovic (129) of Argentina.

Another Brazilian, Sergio Dutra Santos was voted the Best Libero of the tournament. Santos was the Best Digger in the competition, averaging 1.87 successful digs per set and also the best receiver. More than playing his game to the best of his ability, Santos was intensity personified as he cheered his teammates throughout. He ran around the court with clenched fist after every point won as if the gold itself had been decided.

Brazil had beaten Italy in a five-set thriller in the World League final a few weeks earlier, and intensified its focus to win in a much superior fashion on the biggest stage in the world of sports. Brazil also took the win-loss record against Italy to 9-2 since the Sydney Olympics.

Godoy Filho was well supported by Andre Nascimento, Gustavo Endres and Dante Guimaraes Amaral. Once again, it was a super coach who has been able to guide a talented bunch to one title after the other in the last four years. The 43-year-old Bernardo Rezende has moulded the team so well that it was able to pace itself nicely for the climax in the Olympics.

Chinese Ping Zhang and Kun Feng in the thick of action in the final against Russia. China won the gold and Kun Feng was voted the Most Valuable Player. -- Pic. AFP-

"We knew from the beginning that Brazil was the best team in the last few years, because they have won everything. In the fourth set we believed that we could do something more, but we lost our concentration,'' said the Italian spiker, Andrea Giani.

Italy had lost in the league also to Brazil but that was a thriller 21-25, 25-15, 16-25, 25-21, 31-33. So there was a possibility that Italy could even tilt the balance in the final, but Brazil scotched all hopes with an excellent display.

Russia took the bronze beating the U. S., which was one team that went back home with the satisfaction that it had beaten the eventual champion, with relative ease in four sets.

A thriller

The women's final was a thriller, as China recovered from being two sets down and then 21-23 in the fourth to record a memorable victory. It was once again the sheer determination of the Chinese as they kept announcing in one discipline after another that they were getting ready to beat the world in the next Olympics at home in Beijing.

Russia was almost ready to celebrate before China caused the coup, with a remarkable comeback in the history of the Olympic Games.

Quite ironically, it was the second successive time that Russia lost the Olympic final after being two sets up. The team had lost to Cuba in the final in Sydney in a similar fashion.

China had been beaten by the three-time champion Cuba in the league, but kept the champion out of the final with a five-set triumph in the semifinals.

China was easily the best team in the tournament and its setter captain Kun Feng was voted as the Most Valuable Player of the competition.

Hao Yang top-scored for China with 136 points, while Ping Zhang and libero Na Zhang played their parts well.

Ekaterina Gamova was easily the best player of the tournament with 204 points, but her all-round efficiency just about proved inadequate.

The tallest player in the team, at 6' 8'', the 24-year-old Russian was a delight to watch, and along with Lioubov Shashkova the second best scorer with 162 points, was a terror for every team, except the Chinese who stood up to the challenge.

Russia beat favourite Brazil in five sets after being down by two sets, but when they were handshaking distance away from the gold, the Russians dithered and the Chinese went for the jugular right there.

Cuba may have lost the gold for the first time in four attempts, but it was happy to return with a medal. For Yumilka Ruiz Luaces, it was the third successive Olympic medal.

Italy's Paola Cardullo was voted the Best Libero, and the team shared the fifth place with Japan, Korea and the U. S.

Overall, it was entertaining exhibition of quality play.

The results

Men (final): Brazil beat Italy 25-15, 24-26, 25-20, 25-22; Third place: Russia beat U.S. 25-22, 27-25, 25-16; Semifinals: Italy beat Russia 25-16, 25-17, 25-16; Brazil beat U.S. 25-16, 25-17, 25-23.

Women (final): China beat Russia 28-30, 25-27, 25-20, 25-23, 15-12; Third place: Cuba beat Brazil 25-22, 25-22, 14-25, 25-17; Semifinals: Russia beat Brazil 18-25, 21-25, 25-22, 28-26, 16-14; China beat Cuba 25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 23-25, 15-10.