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Americans Might Be Looking at Nothing but Nyet in Medals


SYDNEY, Australia — The unexpected loss to Argentina in the opener of the Olympic men's volleyball tournament Sunday came back to haunt the U.S. team today when second-ranked Russia beat the Americans and dropped them into fifth place in their six-team pool.

The Russians withstood a strong battle from a determined U.S team, 25-18, 25-23, 21-25, 25-17, dominating the fourth game as the U.S., feeling the desperation, fell into a series of net serves and unforced errors.

"We made a lot of mistakes and that hurt us." a disappointed Coach Doug Beal said. "For us to win, our blocking defense has to be really good, and it was only good in stretches today.

"We had some plays we should have made at the beginning of the fourth set that we had trouble making. That put us in a hole and then our serving got sloppy."

The loss left the Americans at 0-2 and only a game up on the last-place South Koreans, who had been beaten earlier in the day by Argentina, 3-1.

It becomes highly problematical whether the Americans can advance from pool play into the quarterfinals. They almost surely will have to win their remaining matches, starting with Thursday's against Yugoslavia. They will play the Koreans on Saturday, then have a date with top-ranked Italy on Monday.

"All the teams in our pool, we can beat," said captain Lloy Ball. "We play our game, we can beat any of them. We just haven't done that yet.

"This is a huge disappointment. We can't be missing serves and getting aced and hitting out of bounds. We're in a hole now and it's up to us. We'll see now how good this team is."

What they saw today was how good the Russians are. As strong as the Americans played, they were outmanned at the net by the taller Russians, offsetting superior play in the backcourt by the U.S.

The Americans, playing with far more togetherness than in the opening loss to Argentina, bounced off to a 4-1 lead in the first game, inspiring chants of "USA! USA!"

Then the Russians put their height advantage to work, at one point running off six consecutive points while Roman Iakovlev served rockets. The U.S. got within a point at 18-17 but then the Russians closed out the Americans, Sergei Tetioukhine hitting a winner into the corner, then blocking a shot, and 7-foot-1 Alexei Kazakov scoring on a block and a ferocious spike.

After a tough loss in the second game, the U.S. forced the issue in the third game, making up an early deficit. George Roumain put the game away with a spike off the block at set point.

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