On verge of upset, Canada's men's volleyball team drops 5-set thriller to Italy
Rio runners-up storm back after dropping first 2 sets
Canada's men's volleyball team gave up a two-set-to-none lead to suffer a gut-wrenching defeat to Italy in its opening game of Tokyo 2020 on Saturday.
After starting strongly, Canada eventually lost 3-2 (28-26, 25-18, 25-21, 25-18, 15-11) as the tournament kicked off where the sport made its Olympic debut in 1964.
Canada started strong and looked confident coming off a five-match win streak to end its Volleyball Nations League campaign, but the Rio silver medallists seized momentum and completed a stunning comeback.
Alessandro Michieletto was Italy's top scorer with 24 points, including the match winner.
WATCH | Italy comes back to top Canada:
Nicholas Hoag led Canada with 18 points, while captain Gordon Perrin was second on the team with 17.
Canada next faces host nation Japan on Monday at 6:40 a.m. ET, while Italy will square off against the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. ET. Both games will be streamed live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website.
Italy notched the first ace of the tournament when Ivan Zaytsev smashed it home to give his team a 12-11 lead in the first set, but Perrin helped Canada pull even at 18 apiece on the heels of a momentum shift once Ryan Sclater began serving.
Canada retook the lead off a powerful swing by Sharone Vernon-Evans, but the back-and-forth action continued, leaving both teams tied 22-22. Perrin then came through with a brilliant tip to give Canada a one-point lead before Vernon-Evans set up the set point.
Italy evened things up and put Canada on its heels, but Lucas Van Berkel came up with a huge block to save the set point for the Canadians.
Canada went on to win the first set 28-26 off a block from Hoag. He is the son of head coach Glenn Hoag, who helped Canada achieve a fourth-place finish at the 1984 Olympics.
Canada took a 10-9 lead in the second set, prompting Italy to take a time out in order to regroup. Zaytsev struggled to find his range, paving the way for Canada to take a 16-13 lead.
Vernon-Evans notched his first ace of the tournament and followed it up with a big swing to give Canada a 19-14 advantage.
WATCH | The Olympians - Men's Volleyball:
Perrin notched an ace to set up the set point, but Italy managed to survive and narrow the score to 24-18. Vernon-Evans stepped up to close out the second set with a clutch block.
Italy really began to find its rhythm from the start of the third set, with Michieletto recording a pair of aces to help put the team up 16-13. The Italians continued to seize momentum, overwhelming the Canadians en route to a 25-21 set victory.
The tide continued to turn in the fourth set, and an ace from Simone Anzani gave Italy a commanding 12-7 lead. Canada's Arthur Szwarc came into the game and quickly added an ace, but the Italians refused to relent and went ahead 23-16.
Italy continued where it left off in the final set with dominant pressure. Sclater saved a match point to keep the score 14-11, but Michieletto shined once again abd scored the winner as Italy cemented the shocking comeback.
Canada's men's team is competing in its second straight Olympic Games following a 24-year absence. The team placed fifth in Rio and has never reached the Olympic podium.
The men's tournament features 12 teams split into two pools. After a preliminary round-robin within both pools, the top four teams in each group advance to a single elimination bracket.
The tournament wraps up on Aug. 7 with the gold and bronze medal matches.