By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO (Reuters) -Brazil's hopes of retaining their Olympic men's volleyball title were crushed on Thursday after they lost a thrilling four-set semi-final to the Russian team (ROC) at the Tokyo Games, while France beat Argentina to reach their first final.
The Russians, who had beaten Brazil in straight sets in the preliminary round, advanced to the final after an 18-25 25-21 26-24 25-23 victory over the world's top ranked team.
Maxim Mikhaylov led the way for the Russians with 22 points while Egor Kliuka added 15 and Ivan Iakovlev 12.
Yoandy Leal scored 18 points for Brazil, who took the first set but failed to maintain momentum as the Russians fought back with a consistent attack and improved defence.
In the third set, Brazil even had a 20-12 lead, but ROC stormed back into the contest with a slew of powerful attacks and blocks that rocked their rivals.
Mikhaylov, playing at his fourth Olympics, said it took some time for his team to settle into the match but they never doubted they could win.
"It's incredible," the 33-year-old said.
"I think we were a bit nervous in the first set as this was the first Olympics for some players, but we believed in ourselves."
Their victory comes a day after the women's team lost to Brazil.
The Russians won gold in London but finished fourth in Rio after losing to the United States in the bronze medal match.
"Our aim for the final match is to have good atmosphere inside and to believe in each other," Mikhaylov said.
On Saturday, they will face France, who beat them in the preliminary round.
FRANCE AIMS FOR FIRST MEDAL
France, ranked fourth in the world, defeated the sixth-ranked Argentina in straight sets 25-22 25-19 25-22, a victory that lacked the drama of their five-set triumph over Poland on Tuesday.
French duo Jean Patry and Trevor Clevenot scored 15 and 14 points respectively, while the team capitalised on a slew of Argentina errors.
"The level of the match was very poor with lots of mistakes, heavy pressure and exhaustion in both teams," Laurent Tillie, France's head coach, said.
"But we have a well-balanced group of players and we played very well, tactically."
France, who have never won an Olympic medal in the sport, will aim for their first gold on Saturday while Argentina will play against Brazil to win bronze.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi;Editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)