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U.S. men face Italy in Olympic volleyball quarters

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    United States' Clayton Stanley, left, Russell Holmes, center, and William Priddy attempt to block a shot during a men's preliminary volleyball match against Russia at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

LONDON >> The U.S. men’s volleyball team faces an aggressive Italian squad it knows well in an Olympic quarterfinals matchup today.

The Americans, the defending gold medalists from Beijing, have played Italy four times in the past three months in World League matches, and the fifth-ranked U.S. team holds a 3-1 advantage going into the contest at Earls Court.

U.S. coach Alan Knipe, whose team went 4-1 in pool play, said the Italians take chances and are strong servers.

“So we’re going to have to do a real nice job on serve receive and handle their serves,” he said. “That’s really what the game will come down to.”

The fifth-ranked U.S. men aren’t considered among the medal favorites at the London Games, but they claimed silver in the recent World League tournament before opening the Olympics with dominant straight-set victories over Serbia and Germany.

Before easily beating Tunisia 3-0 in their final pool match Monday, the United States lost to Russia in five sets, which ended an 11-match winning streak in Olympic play dating to the Americans’ undefeated march to the gold medal in the Beijing Games.

The Americans’ preliminary round was highlighted by a four-set victory over top-ranked Brazil, a rematch of the Beijing final.

The top four teams in each pool, based on a point system, advanced to play in the quarterfinals. The top finishers in each pool face the fourth-place finishers in the opposite pool, while the other matches were determined by drawing lots.

The quarterfinals are knockout rounds, with winners moving on to the semifinals Friday.

Italy went 3-2 in preliminary-round matches, losing to Poland and Bulgaria, the winner of the pool opposite from the Americans. They beat Argentina, Great Britain and Australia.

“I think they’ve been having a tough time in this tournament, but we can’t take them for granted,” said team captain and spiker Clay Stanley, a three-time Olympian.

Knipe said the team will go over its tactics carefully to counter Italy’s strength and how the Americans will attack. The team improved during pool play, he said.

“I think every match we’ve played we’ve been able to get better in some part of the game,” he said after the win over Tunisia. “That’s what you’d like to do while you’re accomplishing the goal of advancing. So now we move into the second phase and the guys are excited to get out there.”

In addition to the U.S. match against sixth-ranked Italy, No. 1 Brazil plays No. 8 Argentina, No. 3 Poland faces No. 2 Russia and No. 9 Bulgaria plays No. 10 Germany.

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