AP Sports Writer
(AP) - Brazil defeated Italy in straight sets in men's Olympic volleyball Friday, earning its third consecutive trip to the gold-medal match, this time against Russia.
Russia beat Bulgaria 3-1 in the other semifinal.
The United States, the defending champion, was eliminated with a straight-set quarterfinal loss to Italy, which couldn't muster the same effort against top-ranked Brazil.
Murilo Endres had 15 points, including an ace for match point, to lead the Brazilians to the victory, 25-21, 25-12, 25-21, and into the final on Sunday.
Brazil won golds in 1992 and 2004, but lost to the U.S. at the 2008 Beijing Games. Only the Russians and the U.S. men have three golds in the sport, which made its Olympic debut in 1964.
Brazil holds a 3-2 advantage over Russia in Olympic competition. The two teams have never met before in a final.
Second-ranked Russia beat Bulgaria 25-21, 25-15, 23-25, 25-23. Maxim Mikhaylov had 25 points and leads all scorers in London.
"It's our country's dream, everybody's dream, the fans' dream to win the gold medal," Mikhaylov said. "Of course it's good to be in the final, but the winner will be the one who plays their best game in the final."
With President Rosen Plevneliev cheering the team on, Bulgaria went ahead 17-14 in the first set. But Russia scored the next four points, capped by Sergey Tetyukhin's ace. Russia pulled in front 21-20 when Alexander Sokolov misplayed a spike and won the set on Alexander Volkov's kill.
Russia took the momentum into the next set, winning it on Tetyukhin's kill. The Bulgarians fought back in the third and pulled in front 17-16 on Todor Aleksiev's block. Mikhaylov's swing went long before Nikolay Nikolov's ace gave the set to Bulgaria, but Mikhaylov then spiked for match point for Russia.
Brazil was without 6-foot-11 opposite Leandro Vissotto Neves, who injured his upper right leg in Brazil's semifinal victory over Argentina.
The opening set was tight, but Brazil pulled ahead 18-15 on Dante Amaral's block. The Italians handed Brazil set point when captain Cristian Savani served into the net.
Italy rallied in the third to close to within 23-21, but never got closer.
"The difference was our head," Brazil's Bruno Rezende said. "We knew Italy would bet on their serve because they serve very well and they made a lot of aces and we never lost our head. That was very important."
Brazil coach Bernardo Rezende did not play 35-year-old captain Gilberto Godhoy Filho, known as Giba, preferring to go with younger players.
One of the game's most celebrated stars, Giba has not started a match in London. The MVP of the competition at the Athens Games had surgery for a broken leg earlier this year.
Italy and Bulgaria will play for the bronze medal before Sunday's featured match.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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