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Italy, the Netherlands Set Up a Showdown

August 03, 1996|Times Wire Services

Italy joined the Netherlands in the men's volleyball gold-medal match, with each team in reach of a defining victory.

Top-ranked Italy, which has won every major championship this decade except the Olympics, struggled early before beating surprising Yugoslavia, 15-12, 8-15, 15-6, 15-7, in the semifinals. The No. 2 Netherlands, a frustrated runner-up in the last three majors--including the '92 Games--beat Russia, 15-6, 15-6, 15-10.

They'll play for the gold medal on Sunday, after Russia and Yugoslavia decide the bronze.

Italy was favored to win the gold medal in 1992, but lost to the Netherlands in a five-set quarterfinal. The Dutch then lost in the final to Brazil.

The Italians have been the Netherlands' tormentors ever since, with victories in the finals of the 1994 world championships, the 1995 World Cup and two European Championships.

"We know that Italy is a very, very strong team. But we also know that one month ago we were capable of beating them in the World League final," veteran Dutch setter Peter Blange said of a five-set victory in Rotterdam.

The Dutch were relatively restrained after a stuff block by 6-foot-11 Bas van de Goor sealed the victory.

"We did not celebrate our victory in an outrageous way," said van de Goor. "It seems like we want to play another great match."

Italy was frustrated by Yugoslavia's blocking in the second and third games and the hitting of Vladimir Grbic before closing out the 2 1/2-hour match.

The Italians, however, welcomed back star hitter Andrea Giani, who sat out the quarterfinals because of a knee injury.

In other action, Brazil beat Cuba, 15-12, 16-14, 16-14, in the fifth-place match and Bulgaria downed Argentina, 15-10, 15-10, 7-15, 7-15, 20-18, for seventh place.

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