The city may be going through difficult times because of swine flu but for the jam-packed Badminton Hall at the Shiv Chhatrapathi Sports Complex in Balewadi here, there was only one worry on Saturday evening. Will India beat defending champions Brazil in the semi-finals of the Men's U-21 Volleyball World Championships?
India couldn't despite twice erasing a set deficit. The hosts rode on the vociferous support of the 4500-odd spectators and gave Brazil a scare before losing 2-3.
A poor first pass and the pressure of playing on the biggest stage of their careers froze India as Brazil scraped through 25-19, 17-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-9 to set up a summit clash with Cuba, who outplayed world No. 2 Argentina 25-19, 25-18, 24-26, 25-20 in the first semi-final.
“The boys didn't have the experience of playing at a semi-final and succumbed to the pressure. They made many mistakes and also found it difficult to read the jump floater serves Brazil used. They tried their best, played their hearts out and that is something we all will take back from this tournament,” said India coach M.H. Kumara.
Kumara was right. Brazil had lost only two sets in their first six matches, beating Russia and Cuba easily. But for most of the evening, India matched them.
Brazil won the first set easily capitalising on India's faulty first pass which led to poor setting and spiking. India blocked superbly and served well to win the second and the crowd raised its decibel level. More mistakes from the hosts cost the third but the fourth was a real battle of equals.
Brazil led 9-7 but India levelled at 10-all and protected their lead thanks to some good spiking by Gurinder Singh (30 points) and Naveen Raja (14) and couple of good blocks by Navjeet and Vaishnav.
Two sets all and the stage was set for a humdinger when India fell apart in the decider. For Brazil, their top spiker Mauricio Silva scored 24 points with Isac Santos and Franco Willian Cargnin Paese scoring 17 and 15 each.
“Gurinder and Naveen who were brilliant against Russia failed to create the magic today. But I am happy that the team came so far.
“It has proved that we have a talented pool of players who can drive the country’s future,” said Kumara.
“We still have one match and we hope to win the bronze medal on Sunday,” said Kumara.