By Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) - Russia saved a match point to hand defending Olympic champions the United States their first defeat of the tournament when they stormed from two sets down to win in emphatic style on Saturday.
Russia, bronze medallists at Beijing 2008, clung on at the end of the third set before knocking the stuffing out of the Americans in the final two for a 27-29, 19-25, 26-24, 25-16, 15-8 victory.
"Throughout the match the team started to wake up and started to play better. They realised they had to serve more aggressively and they did, and that was what changed the game," American David Lee said.
"This is definitely a team that we're going to see later on in this tournament."
Lee said the confidence of the U.S. team, one of the medal favourites but who have had a rocky ride in recent years, would not be shaken by the defeat.
"I think that it's good that it happened in pool play," he said.
"The last few years has kind of been an up and down rollercoaster, we haven't really been on a good level, but now we're at a high level."
With one game left to play in the group stages of the tournament, the U.S. and Russia lie first and second in Group B and will contest quarter-finals.
Also through are Italy, who moved into third position in Group A when they came back from two sets down in their clash against a young Australian side.
Italy looked under pressure against Australia before coming back from the brink to win 21-25, 18-25, 25-21, 25-14, 15-13.
Earlier on Saturday Poland made the Earl's Court volleyball arena their own as an army of supporters roared them on to a 3-0 win over hosts Britain.
More red and white flags than Union Jacks were on show in the west London venue and the noisy Polish fans helped the medal-contenders to a 25-16, 25-19, 25-18 win that put them second behind Bulgaria in Group A.
The pair are assured knockout stages berths.
The large Polish community in west London means that the 1976 Montreal Olympics gold medallists have been playing their matches as a virtual home team.
Poland dominated the game, only giving the British team a look once in the second set when the home team took an early and short-lived lead.
"We and Great Britain, we are on completely different levels, we've got different goals than they've got," captain Marcin Mozdzonek said, adding that the Polish team's aim was to make the final.
Britain's Jason Haldane said he saw Poland, who have not won an Olympic medal since 1976, as one of the favourites for gold.
"We don't really get a chance to play teams like this and you need to play teams like this to understand what you need to achieve and strive for," he said.
Making their Olympic debut, the home team have yet to win a set in the tournament after a tough few years of heavy funding cuts and a struggle for quality opponents in the build-up to the Games.
"We're doing this for free and the experience and the pride of trying to represent Britain in the Olympics. Without the funding it's impossible to have a programme that is a world class programme," Haldane explained.
In an earlier match in Group B Germany defeated Tunisia in straight sets, 25-15, 25-16, 25-16, putting a shaky start in the contest behind them to rise to fourth in the group and give themselves a chance of reaching the last eight.
(Editing by Tom Pilcher)