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Argentina's Men Outlast Brazil

September 28, 2000

Brazil might still have the best men's volleyball team in South America, but Argentina will represent the continent in the Olympic medal round.

The Argentines used terrific blocking to hand the Brazilians a bitter quarterfinal defeat Wednesday, 17-25, 25-21, 25-19, 27-25.

It was Argentina's first victory over Brazil in 22 matches spanning the last 3 1/2 years.

"Although they have won recent matches, the difference between us is small," said Argentine setter Carlos Weber. "They respected us, because they knew we could win."

The deciding fourth game was tied, 25-25, when Marcos Milinkovic and Pablo Pereira stuffed a putback for a one-point lead. The Argentine line then slammed down a shot by 19-year-old Brazilian star Dante Amaral for the match.

Argentina will play Russia in the semifinals Friday, and Italy will play Yugoslavia.

Brazil entered the tournament ranked No. 4 in the world and set itself up as a medal favorite by finishing third at the World League and second, to Cuba, in the Americas' Cup last month in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Brazilians had been unstoppable in group play, winning all five matches and dropping just one game. But after losing the second game, they lost confidence, and Argentina kept up the pressure.

"We lost the initial rhythm," said coach Radames Filho. "We couldn't find ourselves again."

Argentina, ninth in the world rankings, began the tournament by beating the United States in four games, sending the Americans on their 0-5 tailspin.

"It represents a lot," Milinkovic said. "Being able to move on to the semifinals of an Olympic Games, in a country where there was not great speculation for Argentina to win a medal ... this is going to be a reason for joy for Argentina."

Russia 3, Cuba 2--Russia anticlimactically won the final point of a superbly played match when Cuban star Angel Dennis served straight into the net for the Eastern European team's 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13 victory.

Dennis, the most talented player on a standout team, was inconsolable, unable to speak to reporters. Cuban captain Ihosvany Hernandez also had trouble forcing the words out, but he finally said: "It was a very difficult match. Both the teams knew what was at stake."

In the fifth game, after Russia surged ahead, 14-11, the Cubans rallied to get within 14-13.

The drama ended quickly, however, as Dennis hit the ball off the lower part of his palm and into the middle of the net.

"Every person has a moment in his life when he has extreme luck. Today was that day for us," Russian captain Vadim Khamutskikh said after the match.

Italy 3, Australia 1--The Italians, who have won the last three world championships but are looking for their first gold medal, admitted they got lazy in their 25-14, 22-25, 25-19, 25-15 victory.

"We played well only every now and then," said Italy's Andrea Gardini. "We played well in the first set and then kind of gave up."

Yugoslavia 3, Netherlands 2--Yugoslavia, the 1996 silver medalist, used its powerful and well-timed blocking to triumph, 25-21, 18-25, 25-18, 30-32, 17-15.

"I did not expect Holland to play so well," said Yugoslavia's Goran Vujevic. "With a little luck, we managed to win. Holland deserves to be in the semis."

In women's competition:

Croatia 3, South Korea 1--A 25-18, 24-26, 25-22, 25-21 victory left Croatia seventh in its first Olympic volleyball tournament. Barbara Jelic, the top scorer in the tournament, led the way for Croatia with 23 kills.

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