By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Often in sport timing is everything and Italy chose the perfect moment to 'click' when they beat reigning champions the United States in the men's Olympic volleyball quarter-finals at Earls Court on Wednesday.
Disappointing in the qualifying group, in which they lost to Poland and Bulgaria and scraped into the quarter-finals in fourth place, the Azzurri were unrecognisable as captain Cristian Savani inspired a 3-0 victory.
The Americans, on the other hand, misfired at a crucial phase of the match to stumble out.
"Something clicked eventually, something I had been talking about over the last week," Savani, who top-scored with 19 points, told reporters.
"I won't tell what we did to prepare this match - nothing strange, but I promise I will reveal it to you at the end of the Olympic Games."
Italy were world champions three times in succession in the 1990s but have never been Olympic gold medallists.
Brazil are blocking their path in the semi-finals and opposite spiker Michal Lasco said they would have to maintain the level they reached against the Americans.
"Just when we were really down and had lost confidence we were able to take out our best," Lasko, whose father Lech won a volleyball gold with Poland in 1976, told Reuters.
"Nobody would have bet on us today, maybe not even we would have. But we have to stay at that level against Brazil because they will punish us if we do."
Lasko said he had not even let himself imagine matching his father's achievement.
"I used to see that medal a lot when I was growing up," he said. "It was inspiring. But we haven't got any medal yet. We've just had one good match."
U.S. captain Clayton Stanley was at a loss to explain the 28-26 25-20 25-20 defeat.
"They turned it up a notch and we turned it down," he told reporters. "We worked four years for this, it's kinda tough.
"We thought we played a good game in the first set but at certain moments we didn't follow the game plan.
"They caught us off guard," added the 34-year-old whose powerful spiking kept his team in contention.
Italy saved two set points in the opener, sealed it with a Dragan Trivica service ace and never looked back.
"This is the team that I was looking for and missed in the previous five matches," Italy coach Mauro Berruto said.
"I knew my team was coming out at the right time."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)