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LONDON, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Russia reached the Olympic men's
volleyball final with a testing 3-1 win over underdogs Bulgaria
on Friday to keep alive their hopes of winning gold in the event
for the first time since 1980.
Russia, ranked second in the world, had too much raw power
for the slighter and more nimble Bulgarians and despite slipping
up in the third set, edged their semi-final clash 25-21 25-15
23-25 25-23 at Earls Court.
The imposing Maxim Mikhaylov, who stands at 2.02 metres,
proved to be the Russians' principal weapon, scoring 25 of the
team's 98 points.
"It's our country's dream, fans' dream, everybody's dream to
win gold at the Olympics," Mikhaylov told reporters.
After going two sets down, Bulgaria stepped up a gear and
got a foothold in the match, but their chances of success
ultimately floundered as they struggled to get a handle on the
"The difference in the end was the service, they made quite
a few aces and we couldn't," Bulgaria captain Vladimir Nikolov
"We just tried to defend the ball but they served really
strong, they are pretty good on that fundamental and we knew
this before the game, but we couldn't find the power to
Bulgaria had surprised many by reaching this stage of the
tournament after their pre-Games preparations were plunged into
turmoil when the coach and two leading players quit.
"Of course this was a very big problem for the Bulgarian
national team because we lost two of our best players in Andrey
Zhekov and Matey Kaziyski," Bulgaria's Georgi Bratoev said.
"All teams need players like them and it would have been
easier if they were here."
Russia claimed men's volleyball gold at the Moscow Olympics
and have been losing finalists twice in the intervening years.
They will play either Italy or Brazil in Sunday's gold-medal
match with Bulgaria playing off for the bronze.
Italy face Brazil later on Friday.
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Mark Meadows)