OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Volleyball: Mean machine marches on: Close-knit and close-shaven, the American volleyball team are a formidable unit. Guy Hodgson figures out why

YOU NEED hands to play volleyball. Not just to thump the ball over the net, but to join in the orgy of congratulation when anything goes your way. A kill and flesh pumps flesh, a block and palms crash together. You suspect if someone ties their shoe-laces correctly a party breaks out around him.

High fives and low fives, it does not come as a bolt from the blue to discover matches are the best of five sets. A successful Olympic run and your digits must look like raw frankfurters.

No team is more in danger of needing the skin conditioning cream at the moment than the players of the United States who meet Brazil in tonight's semi- finals at the Palau Sant Jordi on Montjuc. America is big and so are the outbreaks of celebration. Hand cream they may need; they have no use for hair cream.

The American basketball squad are going for gold under the nickname the 'dream team' but the volleyball collection are more like every caring mother's idea of an urban nightmare - 12 skinheads, only one of whom looms less than 6ft 5in, each with enough muscle to get respect from a body builder. The look is indisputably more mean-cut than clean-cut.

'We are angry and there is no way we are letting it go unnoticed,' Bob Samuelson, a brooding hulk constructed along juggernaut dimensions, said. 'We just slicked (shaved) everyone down and that was it.' The US team feel wronged and are happily/unhappily letting their opponents suffer for it.

This outbreak of stars and gripes has simmered since their first game. At match point in Japan's favour, Samuelson received a second yellow card caution for over-exuberant protestation and should have been dismissed and a point given to his opponents. The referee, Azerbaijan's Ramis Samedov, was unwilling to finish the match on a technicality, however, and allowed Samuelson to remain, no doubt squirming at such largesse as the Americans retrieved victory.

The next day the International Federation of Volleyball rightly upheld a Japanese protest and set in motion an outbreak of solidarity via the shaver in which every US player removed his hair to match Samuelson, who has a skin condition similar to Britain's Duncan Goodhew and is completely bald. As a gesture and as a fashion accessory it was boneheaded, but only the brave, or the foolish, would tell them.

On Wednesday the Americans took their unsmiling unity on to court against the combination of Latvians, Russians and Ukrainians who are playing together for the last time as a relic of the former Soviet Union. They are billed as the Unified Team, but it was their opponents, made more visually menacing by 10 days of spiky growth, who have been brought together by adversity.

It was a match between the US 1984 and 1988 gold medallists and the winners of the 1991 World Cup and one that the former won 12-15, 15-10, 15-4, 15-11 despite being outplayed in the first set. Stephen Timmons, a veteran of another famous victory over the Soviet Union four years ago, said: 'They were outquicking (sic) and outjumping us. I reminded the guys of Seoul and how they'd come out strong last time. If we kept playing and kept fighting they would come down to earth.'

Timmons's prophecy proved correct, disappointing 70 per cent of the audience who had digested the behaviour of the United States' team and cast them as the villains of the tournament. A historically unnatural alliance between Italians, Spaniards and Brazilians was forged and when the Unified Team edged ahead a parade of national flags followed. Samuelson, inevitably, was the Lee Van Cleef figure coming on to the sort of reception Anfield would afford to Vinnie Jones.

But at the end it was the American flag that was flying proudest and the 15,000-seater hall was ringing to chants of 'USA, USA'. Samuelson, a bit player on the court but a central character off it, crossed to the far end to thank the core of this support. Inevitably, he was shaking hands.

It was an act of mutual congratulation and one that, most opinion suggests, will extend to the final. Palm Sunday?

David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Administrative Assistant

£60 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Administrative Assitant Hertford...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments