LONDON (Reuters) - Ecstatic players cavorted around the court, delirious fans started samba parties in the stands and the Earls Court announcer went into meltdown - and this was just a semi-final.
Quite what will happen on Saturday if Brazil’s women repeat their victory over the United States in the Beijing final and claim Olympic gold again is any one’s guess.
On Thursday they produced their most dominant performance of the tournament to outclass Japan 3-0 but they would be wise not to party too hard because in Destinee Hooker, the U.S. team have the most formidable player in the tournament.
She was in devastating form on Thursday, scoring 24 of her team’s points in a 3-0 victory over South Korea that was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests.
The tatty, but atmospheric, west London venue could be the place to be on Saturday night as the world’s two top-ranked teams go head-to-head for gold.
Brazilian passion and flair up against a close-knit and clinically efficient American side looking for the country’s first women’s Olympic volleyball gold.
Inspirational captain Lindsey Berg, playing at her third Olympics, said it would be a huge occasion.
“Brazil again!” the 32-year-old Berg told reporters.
”To win the gold you have to beat everybody. Brazil have got better as the tournament has gone on.
“They are very emotional and that can be a good thing for them and it can also be a bad thing for them.”
Berg is one of several multiple Olympians in a U.S. side coached by New Zealander Hugh McCutcheon, who led the U.S. men’s side to gold four years ago in Beijing.
However, it is first-timer Hooker who could hold the key.
The former standout high-jumper pierced South Korea’s defenses at crucial times during a 25-20 25-22 25-22 victory and also came up with some crucial blocks as Kim yeon-Koung’s impressive spiking kept the Koreans in touch.
“It was a really tough match,” Berg said.
”The match was played after 20 points, we didn’t have our best match but we made plays after 20 points and that’s what shows we’re a good team.
“I tried not to make (Hooker) hit so many balls every match but when it came down to it today she’s the only person I was giving it to, she was incredible.”
South Korea can still match their best ever Olympic performance if they beat Japan in the bronze medal match.
“We still have one match and we want to do well,” Kim told reporters. “We are here to get a medal, otherwise everything we worked for here and to get here will be worthless.”
After group phase defeats by the U.S. and South Korea, Brazil have rediscovered their spark. They needed to save six match points against Russia in the quarter-finals, but were never threatened by Japan in a one-sided semi.
Sheilla Castro, a gold medalist in Beijing, helped herself to 13 points and Japan had no answer.
After leading the lengthy celebrations she turned her thoughts to Saturday’s final.
”It’s going to be difficult,“ she told reporters. ”But at the previous Olympics we were the favorites and now I think America are the favorites.
“But with our crowd here, it’s like playing in Brazil.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury