Volleyball: Brazil retain women's title
Updated: Saturday, 11 Aug 2012 22:10
Brazil retained their Olympic women's volleyball title courtesy of a simply brilliant 3-1 (11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17) final win against the United States at Earls Court tonight.
In a repeat of the 2008 Beijing showpiece, the South Americans once again got the better of their arch-rivals, seeing them off by the very score that was good enough four years ago.
As a result, America's wait for volleyball gold goes on - this was their 10th failed attempt - and they have only got themselves to blame.
The United States started the final as the in-form team, with front-row pairing Foluke Akinradewo and Destinee Hooker virtually unplayable in their games so far, one of which was a 3-1 rout of Brazil in the group stages.
And they began tonight in that manner, threatening to embarrass Brazil as they stormed to the opening set in just 21 minutes.
Somehow, though, Brazil used the end-of-set break to completely transform themselves, returning to the court to produce the most devastating spell of volleyball any side has produced throughout the 37 games that had preceded this one in London.
Their attack became virtually untrackable owing to its speed, and with Hooker shut down and restricted to a tournament-low 14 points, they stormed to victory, proving coach Roberto Guimaraes was not wrong when he said he had learned the lessons of the round-robin defeat.
It did not seem likely in the early stages, with his side immediately 4-1 down, prompting an early time-out. And, with America's defence proving almost unbreakable, that opening-set lead soon became 13-5.
Brazil were simply unable to legitimately find the floor, with every American player managing to cover the angles - in particular their libero Nicole Davis - and the frustration soon set in for Guimaraes' players, with the normally accurate Thaisa drilling wide.
America also had the combined brilliance of Akinradewo and Hooker at the net, joining together in defence and splitting in attack and, when the latter blocked for two successive points, it looked as though Brazil may not make double figures.
They did manage to scrape to the mark, but it was not enough to keep them in the set, with some solid Jordan Larson defence helping the States take it 25-11.
It had appeared as though Brazil had written the opener off at an early stage, and that thought was validated when they raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set, with Fernanda Rodrigues coming off the bench to pep them up.
But they could not control the players America had on court and some stunning defence from Davis got the score back to 3-3, before Brazil - their attack now clicking - getting out to 8-5 by the first time-out.
Unlike in the opener the US were finding their strike players quickly and, crucially, where Hooker was not.
As a result, they racked up point after point, with Claudino and Rodrigues both cashing in.
They went from 12-all to a 19-13 lead and were able to push on to secure a 25-17 set victory, with coach Hugh McCutcheon clearly concerned at his side's sudden submission.
He had even more to worry about at the start of the third when a terrible Lindsey Berg set allowed Brazil to get the first mini-jump to 2-0. Everything that could go wrong for the States seemed to be doing so too, with 18-point Jacqueline twice shutting down Hooker for 6-2 and, with her out of the game, so were her side.
Larson did her best to keep them in it on the block, as did David at the back of the court, but with Rodrigues outscoring Hooker on the wing, they never surrendered their lead through to a 25-20 third-set win.
The difference in the United States from the first set was staggering and no matter how vociferously McCutcheon rallied his players, he could not get them to find any rhythm as they dropped 5-2 behind in the do-or-die fourth.
Brazil were picking winners at will by this point - Jacqueline practically slapped one down the line to 9-6 - and when Davis stated making reception errors, America almost knew the game was up.
It quickly was too, with Rodrigues securing the win when her spike down the line could only be tipped into the stands by a despairing Logan Tom.