RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Emanuele Birarelli tested his tender right ankle for the first time and all felt fine. Then, he and his Italian teammates celebrated their latest impressive Olympic win by beating host Brazil on its home court.
Italy welcomed back Birarelli after a one-game absence with an ankle injury, and the fourth-ranked Italians sent Brazil to a second straight defeat Saturday in a matchup of the two top teams in Pool A.
“I’m happy to be back, my ankle held up well,” the Italy captain said. “It was hard to be out and get an injury early in the Olympics, but then we realized it wasn’t that bad.”
Italy responded after dropping the first set to win 23-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-15. The raucous Maracanazinho arena fell quiet for the second time in three nights after top-ranked Brazil’s four-set loss to the United States on Thursday.
As thrilling as it is to beat Brazil on its home turf, the Italians have their sights much higher: the top of the medal stand in Rio de Janeiro.
“Playing against Brazil and winning in Brazil is always important and gives us great pride. We played a very hard match,” Italy coach Gianlorenzo Blengini said. “But it’s only one game.”
The Italians are now in prime position heading into the final preliminary match Monday against Canada. Brazil wraps up pool action by facing France.
Biarelli was sidelined for a sweep of Mexico on Thursday after spraining his right ankle against the United States two days earlier.
“I’m very happy with this win against Brazil because we beat Brazil in Brazil, but this is only one,” Birarelli said. “There are big matches to come.”
Brazil coach Bernardo Rezende patted Birarelli on the back and offered a congratulatory handshake to Blengini afterward, knowing his young Brazilian squad now must beat France on Monday night to avoid elimination.
“Both teams are in the same situation, whoever wins stays and whoever loses will go home,” Rezende said. “There’s pressure, of course, playing in Brazil in front of our people. We have to transform that pressure into enthusiasm. We must just believe, stay calm and focus on the next match.”