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Saturday, September 30
Nothing but gold will make Italy happy

SYDNEY, Australia -- Italy ended the Olympics with another medal it didn't want, taking the bronze by routing Argentina 25-16, 25-15, 25-18.

Andrea Sartoretti, Samuele Papi and Pasquale Gravina, who led Italy to every major international title in the past six years but couldn't win Olympic gold, made quick work of the underdog Argentines Sunday (Saturday night ET).

"We're not happy. We're not going to celebrate a lot," said Italian coach Andrea Anastasi. "We wouldn't have celebrated even a silver medal."

There was a question about whether Italy would show any life at all after losing to Yugoslavia in the semifinals. Having won the world championship in 1990, 1994 and 1998, the Italians had been favored in the last three Olympics, only to fall short each time.

Still, the 1996 silver medalists showed early that bronze was better than nothing.

Italy jumped to a 7-2 lead and gradually pushed it to 18-11, as Sartoretti and Papi found seams from the corners of the net, and Gravina simply powered his shots down the middle.

It was an unhappy birthday and retirement send-off for Italian captain Andrea Gardini, a fixture on the national team for nearly 15 years. He broke his left little finger in the first set against Yugoslavia and sat on the bench Sunday with thick bandages on the hand.

Gardini, who turned 35, said he had no regrets about not winning the gold.

"I wouldn't change anything," he said, adding that his team should be favored again in the next Olympics.

His coach had similar predictions, but in the process he belittled the Yugoslavs, who played Russia in the gold-medal match later Sunday.

"It was our fault we lost against Yugoslavia, rather than the merit of Yugoslavia," Anastasi said. "I think the team that played tonight can win the World Cup in Argentina (in 2002). I'm convinced we still have something to say on an international level."

Argentina had made a surprising run to the semifinals, upsetting Brazil behind the hitting of Marcos Milinkovic and 37-year-old Hugo Conte. But the Italians were too quick with the block, and Luigi Mastrangelo let very few easy balls through.

The Argentines tried to pump themselves up for the second game but began bickering when Italy started with an 8-1 spurt. Showing his versatility, Sartoretti jumped for a left-handed spike, then pulled back to plop the ball over the net for an 18-9 lead.

Argentina started much better in the third game and pulled within 22-18. But a serve into the net -- a chronic problem for the Argentines in the tournament -- allowed Italy to close it out.

Argentina took fourth to improve on its eighth-place finish in Atlanta.

"We would have celebrated quite a lot had we won the bronze medal, even though they say they won't," said Conte, who also is retiring. "I think it's a very good thing to get this far."


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