All the United States needed leading by two points in the fourth game was three more points to clinch a spot in the Olympic gold-medal match.
And then Italian opposite Ivan Zaytsev stepped to the service line.
Zaytsev spearheaded a 6-0 game-ending run that included back-to-back aces to force a fifth game as Italy rallied to beat the United States 30-28, 28-26, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9 in the Olympic semifinals on Friday in Rio.
With this loss, the United States (4-3) ends its four-match winning streak and is eliminated from gold-medal contention for the second consecutive Olympics. However, the team can still earn the nation’s fifth Olympic men’s volleyball medal as it will play in the bronze-medal match on Sunday.
Zaytsev despite being held to less than a .125 attack percentage finished the semifinal match with a team-high 16 kills. He also had five of Italy’s tournament-high 10 aces against the United States.
The United States in the loss out-hit Italy .333 to .225 and had four players with at least nine kills.
Opposite Matt Anderson led all players with 18 kills and had a tournament-best five aces against Italy (6-1). In addition, outside attack Aaron Russell added 14 kills, while outside attacker Taylor Sander contributed with nine kills.
U.S. middle attacker Max Holt had both a tournament-high 10 kills on a .588 attack percentage and six blocks.
The United States had four players with multiple blocks as it out-blocked Italy 16 to 7. Along with Holt, middle attacker and U.S. captain David Lee finished with five blocks.
This is the second time in the tournament that Italy has defeated the United States despite being out-hit. Italy defeated the United States in four game in pool-play last week.
The semifinal fourth-game loss occurred following a U.S. 16-point third-game victory — the team’s largest margin of victory throughout the entire tournament. The fourth game was also one of two late-game leads the United States could not maintain against Italy.
The United States in the opening game could not convert on multiple game-points before losing to Italy in overtime.
Italy with this victory will advance to the gold-medal match for the first time in 12 years. The team will play the winner of the other semifinal match between Brazil and Russia for a chance to win the nation’s first Olympic men’s volleyball gold medal.
The loser of the Brazil and Russia semifinal match will play the United States for the bronze medal on Sunday morning.