Brazilians have a natural happy-go-lucky attitude and have a saying for when life gets difficult: "Tudo bem" basically is a combination of "it's all good" and "no worries." That carefree outlook was on display when a well-rested, undefeated US team playing on its homecourt punched the Brazilians squarely in the mouth by taking the first set from the reigning Olympic gold medalists.
But much like a seasoned heavyweight champion, the Brazilians dusted themselves off and went to business defeating the US in four sets; 22-25, 25-22, 25-19 and 25-14. The top-ranked team in the world enjoyed a height advantage and an exuberant crowd.
Team USA also needed a monumental performance from its dynamic duo of Jordan Larson, but they were out of sorts Friday night. The two combined for only 20 points, neither recorded a service ace, and both had a few embarrassing errors. Richards actually almost decapitated an elderly-looking scorekeeper with a miss-hit, prompting the US coach to bench her for the remainder of set two and all of set three to perhaps clear her head. It didn't work.
Normally in sync, Richards didn't see a Larson high-five and left her hanging; symbolizing the pair's struggles throughout the semifinal match. When the game got out of control for the US in the third set, Larson and Richards spent the closing moments on the bench watching Brazil put the finishing touches on their forgettable night. But it wasn't all their fault. The US committed 27 errors and tallied fewer block points and aces than Brazil.
It's clear the Brazilians are the best in the world. Buoyed by a cacophony of drums, whistles, thundersticks (inflatable noise-making balloons invented by the devil) and chanting from the crowd, Sheilla Castro scored 21 points with Welissa de Souza Gonzaga and Fabiana Marcelino Claudino each adding 13 points. The Brazilian players have one-name status in South America much like Cher or Prince, and with more performances like their most recent triumph against the US, they will enjoy the one-name treatment on our continent as well.
Brazil's victory earns them a spot in today's 6 p.m. final against the Dominican Republic in what will be a rematch. The Dominican Republic upset Brazil in five sets earlier in the tournament and looked formidable against Puerto Rico also taking them to five sets; 34-36, 22-25, 25-23, 25-21 and 15-9.
The US will battle Puerto Rico for third place at 3:30 p.m. in another rematch. The Americans had the talent to beat Brazil, but haymakers thrown in the first round won't defeat the best team in the world. Brazil's steady, machine-like jabs eventually gave them the knockout in the 15th round.
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