- Associated Press
Sunday, August 21, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — With Neymar in a courtside seat cheering his countrymen, Wallace pumped his arms and let out screams from deep in his lungs as Brazil fed off the energy in raucous Maracanazinho arena.

Over and over again he celebrated each point that got his team closer to an Olympic title.

Brazil’s determined men’s volleyball team gave the hosts another sensational gold right next door to where Neymar and Co. did it less than 24 hours earlier in a thrilling penalty shootout against 2014 World Cup champion Germany.

Brazil beat mighty Italy 25-22, 28-26, 26-24 on Sunday for the home team’s first Olympic title in 12 years since a championship at Athens in 2004.

As the delirious home crowd hung out to watch the medal ceremony, fans danced in the stands and chanted “Campeao! Campeao!” - or, “Champion, Champion!”

Wallace wiped his still-sweaty brow as the Brazilian flag was raised and the national anthem began. He started singing. They all did, with tears of joy, right along with every last Brazilian in the arena.

“It’s really special, especially winning in our own home it leaves a really good taste,” Brazil’s William said. “It’s a whole life of work and this is our result. We are very happy for this.”

At the very end, Sergio grabbed the microphone and expressed his gratitude to thousands inside and millions elsewhere, thanking the adoring crowd and telling all the fans how much he cherishes wearing Brazil’s yellow shirt on his chest.

Then, he and the champion Brazilians took a victory lap and celebrated some more. They capped the final day of the Rio de Janeiro Games with a memorable, emphatic volleyball victory.

That heartbreaking silver from London four years ago, forget about it. Brazil won on its own soil, as a captivated country watched with pride on the final day of the Rio Olympics.

Neymar threw his hand up in triumph when the Brazilians grabbed the hard-fought second set, then jumped to his feet on each of the two match points Brazil needed to finish it. The “monster block!” tune that played all tournament sounded once more after Lipe’s last play. He sprinted to the end of the floor and slid on his knees, arms raised to the sky.

Bruno rushed to Neymar for an embrace, while Lucas also ran to the stands to hug a supporter before holding Sergio in his arms and fighting tears.

Neymar was hardly the only one enthralled in a chanting, flag-waving, hand-shaped thunderstick-pounding arena that became a sea of yellow, green and blue.

The Brazilian men won for a volleyball-crazed country when Fabiana and the two-time defending women’s winner from Brazil fell to eventual champion China in a five-set quarterfinal Tuesday.

Brazil’s men avenged a loss to Russia in the 2012 London Games gold-medal match with a straight-set victory Friday night, then carried that momentum - and rode the energy of their huge crowd - to the top spot of the Olympic podium.

Italy came oh-so-close in London earning bronze, and then again just short in Rio. Now, the Italians are left to try again for their first volleyball gold in Tokyo 2020. This one went far too fast for the Italians’ taste.

The Brazilians reached their fourth straight Olympic title match and finally came out champions once more. Even sweeter to reach the gold-medal match by knocking down the Russia team that beat them for gold in London.

The stunned Italians - in tears as they watched the wild celebration unfold - had outlasted the United States in a five-set semifinal that went down as an instant Olympic classic, then the Americans bounced back to earn the bronze medal earlier Sunday by rallying from two sets down to defeat Russia in five.

Brazil’s fans cheered Italy, too, yelling “I-tal-ia!” as the team accepted silver. Ivan Zaytsev clapped his hands in the air in appreciation of the gesture.

“I smiled when I heard the anthem of Brazil before the match,” Italy’s Matteo Piano said. “It was something special, all of Maracanazinho singing and screaming.”

Moments before stepping up to accept their gold medals, Brazil’s players bounced up and down, some signaling hearts to the stands with their fingers, others waving to every section in the place as U.S. captain and bronze medalist David Lee used his phone a few feet away to capture the incredible spectacle.

The Brazilians then grabbed Sergio and tossed him in the air, time and time again. The fitting gesture for a national team treasure and beloved libero in what likely was his last Olympics.

What a way to go out.

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