Lille, France, July 8, 2018 - Aaron Russell roused the United States as they recovered from their heartbreaking semifinal defeat by France to beat Brazil in three sets 3-0 (25-21, 28-26, 28-26) and salvage the bronze medal in the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League.
The US recovered from two sets down to force a decider against the French on Saturday, only to succumb narrowly in the final set, but they erased that from their minds to beat the Brazilians on Sunday evening to claim a deserved bronze - their first podium finish at a world-level event since finishing third at the Rio Olympics. Brazil were better than in their surprise semifinal drubbing to Russia the previous day, but they still looked short of their best as they left empty handed - only the fourth time in a staggering 34 world-level tournaments in which they've failed to finish on the podium.
John Speraw's US outfit were good value for their win and managed to largely stifle Brazil's dangerman Wallace Da Souza with some tremendous blocking, with David Smith and Taylor Sander winning a combined five points from blocks. But it was Russell who was irrepressible out wide as he chipped in with a team-high 14 points, while Matthew Anderson (13 points) and setter Micah Christenson were also outstanding - the latter with some breathtaking digging.
Brazil were abject at best in their dismal defeat by Russia, but they at least showed some resolve as they pushed the US close in sets 2 and 3. Wallace did chip in with a game-high 15 points while Lucas Saatkamp (12 points) and setter Bruno Rezende both had their moments, but it wasn't quite enough as the American blockers managed to disrupt the South Americans' rhythm.
Brazil went into this match with the upper hand in the recent head-to-head record - they had beaten the US in six of their last seven meetings and came from 2-0 down to beat Speraw's men 3-2 in the preliminary rounds - but the first set was a cagey affair with both sides virtually trading point for point. Back-to-back blocks from US star Smith dragged the scores level at 12-12 and a powerful Wallace spike levelled matters again minutes later (17-17). But the US - who won 4 block points in the first set alone - nudged ahead with Anderson and Russell coming up with some big points as the 2015 World Cup winners took the set, 25-21.
The US surged into a 4-0 lead at the start of the second set, but Renan Dal Zotto's Brazilian side seemed reluctant to go down without a fight. They fought back brilliantly with Douglas Souza finishing off a monster rally before the South Americans levelled things up at 6-6. Wallace was sniping for opportunities and Bruno began to dictate proceedings as Brazil opened up a two-point lead (18-16). But the lead changed hands again with the US storming back as a Bruno service error gave them two set points. The US needed five of them in the end to finally close out the set (28-26) via a brilliant Maxwell Holt block and leave Brazil with a huge uphill task.
Christenson was majestic in the third set as the US sought to wrap up the match as quickly as possible, the setter produced some crafty points to put his side 8-5 up at the first technical timeout. But Brazil are a battle-hardened team and responded valiantly despite finding themselves 12-8 down as they registered four successive points to level the scores - a Bruno ace serve and a few Wallace spikes the highlights in that sequence. But a couple of big points from Smith helped shift the momentum back in the Americans' favour as their middle attack continued to stifle the Dal Zotto's men. The US had to fend off a terrific Brazilian rally and finally rounded out the set 28-26 on their fourth match point to clinch bronze and inflict a seventh defeat in ten matches for Brazil, who miss out on the podium.