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Russia, Yugoslavia Earn Title Shots

September 30, 2000

Roman Yakovlev wanted the ball right from the start and finally got it, leading Russia into the men's gold medal match with a 27-25, 32-30, 21-25, 25-11 victory over Argentina on Friday.

On a close point in the first game, Yakovlev dug out a ball, jumped up and held out his hands, pleading with setter Konstantin Ushakov to feed him. The pass instead went to teammate Igor Chulepov, who punched it long.

Yakovlev, one of the hardest hitters in the world, got more looks as the match went on, and in the deciding fourth game he was virtually unstoppable.

Russia, appearing in its first Olympic final since 1988 and seeking its first gold medal since 1980, will play Yugoslavia, which upset Italy, 27-25 34-32 25-14.

The Italians had won the last three world championships and came into the Olympics as the gold medal favorites but once again fell short in their bid to capture the only major prize that has eluded them.

"For the past 11 years this team has been favorites so we're used to it," Italian captain Andrea Gardini said.

"We were under too much pressure."

The closest Italy came to winning Olympic gold was in Atlanta four years ago, when it held match point in the final against the Netherlands only to lose 17-15 in the fifth set.

Elsewhere, the Netherlands finished fifth by defeating Brazil, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22. Peter Blange played his 500th game for the Dutch national team, which won the gold medal in 1996.

In the seventh-place match, Cuba struggled early before beating Australia, 25-23, 25-11, 25-15.

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