On the final night of action at Rio 2016, Brazil’s men were crowned Olympic volleyball champions at the Maracanazinho after a straight sets 3-0 victory over Italy.
After the final whistle, Brazil's players lay stretched on the floor, physically and mentally exhausted, celebrating an emotional victory. But there was one final twist in the tale, as their opponents decided to challenge the match-winning point.
They had to wait several tense minutes before the challenge was overruled and the result was confirmed.
Wallace de Souza was Brazil’s top points scorer in the competition, and he added 20 more to his tally in the final, helping to steer his team towards the gold in one hour 37 minutes of compelling action.
Italy had looked to key men Osmany Juantorena and Ivan Zaytsev to crank up the pressure on he hosts, who bore the burden of huge expectations from most of the 10,000 fans in the stadium and the millions watching at home.
But the European team’s efforts were not enough and Brazil ran out winners 25-22, 28-26, 26-24.
Bruno Rezende, son of team coach Bernardo and one of Brazil’s star performers throughout the tournament, said that winning gold on home soil was very special, afer the team had ended up as losing finalists at Beijing 2008 and London 2012:
“We deserved this medal so much. It's much more special to do it at home, it's a magical moment. Everything we went through and now we are Olympic champions. This generation was said to be chokers. After so many silvers, now we're gold.”
His team-mate Sergio Santos, one of the longest serving players in the Brazil team, who was part of the team that had won gold at Athens 2004, was delighted to be able to announce his retirement with another gold.
“I just want to thank volleyball for giving me so many friends. I won the first gold in Athens and now another one. The best of it all is now going back to a normal life and being able to pick up my kids from school.”
Meanwhile, Italy’s Zaytsev described their silver medal as “bittersweet”, but admitted that it was nonetheless “a big achievement. I'm proud of what we have done, especially considering what we have been through over the last year. Each one of us has got a story to tell; we have opened our hearts and started to build something special.”