|The U.S. never found an answer to Brazil's onslaught. (AP)|
Ever since the U.S. women's volleyball team lost the 2008 Olympic gold medal match to Brazil 3-1, the Americans have been the best team in the world.
They've won world championships; they earned the world no. 1 ranking for months on end; they cruised into Saturday's 2012 Olympic final rematch vs. Brazil having won all seven of their matches in London, with only two total sets dropped. Those wins even included a dominant 3-1 win over Brazil in pool play that cemented the U.S. as clearcut favorites to win their first-ever Olympic gold medal.
But Saturday, the Brazilians won the match that mattered. After a laughably east first-set win, the Americans unraveled entirely over the final three sets and were forced to settle for another bitter silver, 25-11, 17-25, 20-25, 17-25.
The U.S. never once took a lead in the final three sets, seeing their formidable spikes repeatedly digged, their block ignored by a precision Brazil attack, and their mental composure slowly desert them as the reigning Olympic champions taught them a lesson in rising to the occasion.
The Brazilians were comprehensively better in all phases of the game, outdigging the Americans 15.75 percent to 9.25 and hitting 61 spikes to the U.S.'s 46. (That the Brazilians also attempted 27 more spikes tells you how much better a job they did in receiving serve and setting up their offense.)
It looked like the outcome would be completely different in the first set, as the U.S. came out hitting on all cylinders as Brazil committed a series of ugly errors, falling behind 22-8 and falling by a whopping 14 points.
But it was all downhill for the U.S. from there as Brazil started the second set 3-0 and never truly looked back. The Americans tied the second set at 12-12 but watched the Brazilians rip off six straight points to seize control of the set and, as it turned out, the match.
In the third set, the U.S. fell behind early and never drew closer than two points down the stretch, Brazil turning a 21-19 lead into a 23-19 with two critical points and closing it out at 25-20.
The Americans trailed 7-6 in the fourth set but once again could not gain any real traction, falling behind 14-9 to force coach Hugh McCutcheon to call his final timeout. Brazil would nonetheless build their lead over the shell-chocked Americans to 19-11, making the final few points a formality.
The U.S. serve receive and setting was unable to get star attacker Destinee Hooker on track, as she finished with only 14 points won--one of her lowest totals of the tournament.