Baku, June 27, AZERTAC
Italy continued their impressive run through the Beach Soccer tournament by defeating world no.3 Switzerland 7-4 in the semi-finals on Saturday.
They will face Russia in Sunday's final, after the world no.1 team beat Portugal in their last-four match.
The Italians, who entered the tournament ranked no.11 in the world and lost their Baku 2015 opener to Spain, have already beaten the top two teams in the tournament.
After beating Russia in their last match to top the 'group of death', Italy jumped into a 2-0 lead over the Swiss after four minutes.
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But Switzerland, playing without suspended star Noel Ott, recovered to draw level at 2-2 early in the second period.
With just over eight minutes left in the period, the key moment of the match came when Moritz Jaeggy misdirected a header back to his own goalkeeper for an own goal.
Switzerland unravelled, conceding three more goals in the period to gift Italy a 6-2 lead, which was too much to recoup.
Italy's success has been led by striker Gabriele Gori, who scored twice more on Saturday to become the tournament's leading goal-scorer on six.
"Our rhythm has been increasing game by game and we were able to maintain it at a high level," he said.
Russia beat Portugal 2-1, largely thanks to goalkeeper Andrey Bukhlitskiy.
The teams scored a goal apiece midway through the second period, but the match was ignited eight minutes before the end.
A foul by Russia's Dmitri Shishin on striker Nuno Belchior resulted in a penalty and a second yellow card for the Russian. Belchior flashed the spot-kick wide but the miss spurred his team on.
In five breathless minutes, Portugal hit the post twice and Bukhlitskiy pulled off a series of world-class saves.
With just 1:54 left on the clock, Russia's Artur Paporotnyi bent in a left-footed free-kick to repay his hard-working goalkeeper and send Russia into the gold medal match.
"If it seems like magic, then it is a very good show – melodrama, comedy and thriller all together. Thank God we won," said Bukhlitskiy.
"Bukhlitskiy was incredible," said Portugal captain Madjer. "We played a great match and we had lots of opportunities to score, but he was like half of the Russian team."
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