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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coach Bares His Soles as Russians Get Past Cubans

SYDNEY, Australia — Russia advanced to the semifinals of the Olympic men’s volleyball tournament Wednesday, winning a five-set nailbiter over Cuba that had Russian coach Gennady Chipolin jumping out of his shoes.

But defending Olympic champion the Netherlands could not survive a similar five-set marathon, falling to Yugoslavia 25-21, 18-25, 25-18, 30-32, 17-15.

While the Dutch will go home without a medal, the result can hardly be considered an upset, as Yugoslavia is one of the world’s top teams and lost the 1998 world title to Italy — the team it will meet in Friday’s semifinals.

What was perhaps the most hotly contested match of the volleyball competition ended on a subdued note when Angel Dennis floated his serve into the net to give Russia a 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13 win.

While his Cuban teammates attempted to lift a distraught Dennis off the floor, his hands covering his face, the Russian team erupted in wild celebrations. Chipolin somersaulted out of his chair and leapt into the air, losing his shoes.

"To win a medal is worth losing your shoes over," smiled Chipolin. "To lose your shoes is nothing, it is more important as a coach not to lose your head."

And it will probably also leave a scar on many of the Cubans. Devastated, they slumped off the floor, having let another opportunity at a medal slip through their fingers.

Despite a reputation for producing some of the world’s best players, many of whom play in Europe’s top professional league in Italy, the Cuban men have not come close to dominating the sport the way the two-time defending Olympic champion women have.

With the match even at two sets apiece and Russia leading the rubber 8-3, Cuba staged a dazzling comeback to take an 11-10 lead.

The lead changed hands in the few remaining points, before Dennis’ failed serve settled the issue.

Russia’s opponent in Friday’s semifinals will be Argentina, which dropped the opening set to Brazil then rallied to down the 1992 Olympic champion 3-1 (17-25, 25-21, 25-19, 27-25).

Italy received its first scare of the tournament when Australia stole a set from the three-time world champion, which then quickly recovered to record a convincing 3-1 (25-14, 22-25, 25-19, 25-15) quarterfinal win.

"This was the first scare of the tournament for us, and we needed it," said Italian coach Andrea Anastasi.

The Italians had looked ready to romp to an easy win over the Australians, who were making their first appearance in an Olympic tournament, as they sped through the opening set.

But in the second, Australia, urged on by an afternoon sellout crowd at the Sydney Entertainment Center, surged to a 13-6 lead and held on to level the match.

The loss, or the noise, seemed to wake the Italians, who gave the hosts the first point in the third set but never again trailed to remain on course for their first Olympic title.