LONDON >> The defending Olympic champion U.S. men’s volleyball team was eliminated from the London Games on Wednesday with a straight-set quarterfinal loss to Italy.
The fifth-ranked United States struggled to defend against captain Cristian Savani, who had 19 points in the 28-26, 25-20, 25-20 victory for the sixth-ranked Italians.
U.S. setter Donald Suxho bent over with his hands on his knees and shook his head as Italy celebrated the win at Earls Court. After congratulating the Italians, the Americans turned and applauded the many U.S. fans in the crowd.
The United States won the gold medal in Beijing in 2008, upsetting favorite Brazil 3-1. It was the Americans’ third gold in men’s volleyball, which became an Olympic sport in 1964. Russia is the only other nation with three.
Italy has never won the gold, but has won silver twice, most recently at the 2004 Athens Games.
The two teams split their previous Olympic meetings, each winning two.
The Italians will face Brazil in Friday’s semifinals. The top-ranked Brazilians defeated Argentina in straight sets (25-19, 25-17, 25-10) earlier in the day.
The United States was led by captain Clay Stanley with 16 points. But ultimately the team was thwarted by Italy’s powerful serves. Savani and Dragan Travica each had four aces.
Stanley couldn’t stop Michal Lasko’s kill for match point.
The United States took a 13-9 lead in the first set on David Lee’s kill, but Italy leveled it at 18-all on Travica’s ace and took the lead on Ivan Zaytsev’s spike.
The Italians denied the U.S. set point three times before claiming it on another ace from Travica that the Americans thought would sail long.
Inspired, Italy only briefly surrendered the lead in the second set and pulled ahead 20-16 on Lasko’s block.
Italy won match point when Matt Anderson misplayed the return on Savani’s serve for ace. The United States argued the point but to no avail.
With their fans wildly cheering them on, the Italians went up 13-9 in the third when Stanley’s serve sailed out.
The U.S. team went 4-1 in the preliminary round to capture the top seed going into the quarterfinals. The Americans beat top-ranked Brazil 3-1 in a rematch of the Brazil finals, but lost in five sets to Russia — snapping an 11-match winning streak in Olympic play, dating to Beijing.
The team’s undefeated run in the Beijing Games was emotionally charged after coach Hugh McCutcheon’s father-in-law was stabbed to death at a Chinese tourist site a day before the opening ceremony. McCutcheon missed the team’s first three matches but rejoined the team to guide it to the gold.
After victory, McCutcheon moved over to the U.S. women’s team and Alan Knipe took over the men’s team.
The United States wasn’t considered among the medal favorites in London but claimed silver in the recent World League tournament and played well in the preliminary round.
The U.S. finished the Olympics 4-1.
Italy went 3-2 in preliminary-round matches, losing to Poland and Bulgaria, the winner of the pool opposite from the Americans. The Italians beat Argentina, Britain and Australia.