Who: U.S. Men’s National Team (4-2) vs Italy (5-1)
When: Aug. 19 at noon EDT
Where can I watch? nbcsports.com/live
So far at the Olympic Games: The U.S. Men opened the Olympic tournament with pool play losses to Canada (3-0) and Italy (3-1). They turned things around with 3-1 victories over host and world No. 1 Brazil and France and a sweep of Mexico.
The U.S. finished third in Pool A and Poland was drawn as their opponent for the crossover quarterfinals. The U.S. swept Poland to advance to the semifinals.
Italy went 4-1 in Pool A, losing only its final pool play match to Canada after its pool victory had been secured. In the quarterfinals, Italy topped Iran, 3-0 to advance to the rematch with the U.S. Men.
What kind of history do these teams have? The U.S. Men are now 4-3 against Italy since 2012. Prior to the Olympic tournament, Italy beat the U.S. Men in the final round of World League, 3-1. However, during World League pool play, the U.S. Men beat Italy, 3-0 in Rome.
They are 30-45 against the European side since 1980.
Italy has never won an Olympic gold medal. It has finished second twice (1996 and 2004) and third three times (1984, 2000 and 2012). In 2012, Italy was the team to eliminate the U.S. Men from the Olympic Games by beating them in the quarterfinals.
This is the sixth time the U.S. Men have reached the Olympic semifinals. Four times the U.S. Men have come away with a medal (gold in 1984, ’88 and 2008 and bronze in 1992).
Match analysis: Italy has a lot of weapons. You might slow down opposite Ivan Zaytsev and outside hitter Osmany Juantorena, but then you have to watch out for middle blockers Emanuele Birarelli and Matteo Piano. Birarelli was even injured for part of the pool play match against the United States and Italy still won with Simone Buti. Italy’s setter Simone Giannelli, who celebrated his 20th birthday on the same day as the pool play match with the U.S., is extremely talented and can hurt you with setting, hitting and blocking. Gianelli now ranks first among all setters in the tournament while U.S. setter Micah Christenson ranks second.
The U.S. Men have been getting well-rounded scoring from outside hitters Aaron Russell and Taylor Sander along with opposite Matt Anderson. The no-doubt would like to get middle blockers Max Holt and David Lee more involved in the offense as well, but Holt and Lee have been providing much-needed defense and will need to continue to do so. The service reception of libero Erik Shoji, Sander and Russell continues to be a strength. And while serving has been strong, the U.S. would always like to cut back on errors.
Among other U.S. statistics leaders, Russell ranks second among all scorer (80 kills, 7 blocks, 4 aces) while Anderson is fifth (72 kills, 6 blocks, 4 aces). Holt is third among blockers with 12 (.57 per set). Holt and Sander are first and second respectively in aces with nine apiece (.43 per set). Shoji leads all diggers with 34 (1.62 per set). Sander and Shoji are first and second respectively among receivers. Each has 54 excellent receptions.
What happens next? The winner of Friday’s match will play the winner of the semifinal between Brazil and Russia for the gold medal at 12:15 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Aug. 21. The losing teams will play for bronze at 8:30 a.m. EDT.
Quote of the week: With the U.S. Men’s impressive comeback from being down 0-2 in pool play, the media has been asking players if the losses might have contributed to the later victories. “Yeah, now we know what NOT to do,” responded Taylor Sander.