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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - Russian male gymnasts will battle China and Japan as they look to win gold for the first time since 1996 in the team event at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday.
Anchored by reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy, the Russians finished third in qualifications behind Japan and China, with all three teams finishing within 0.306 points of each other.
The men competing as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) - without their country's flag and anthem because of doping sanctions - will need another miraculous performance by Artur Dalaloyan for a chance at gold.
Dalaloyan, who had surgery on a severed Achilles in April, finished sixth all-around after performing on the vault and floor despite planning to sit out the events to spare his leg.
In the run-up to the Games, the 2018 all-around champion's health had cast doubt over the Russian's ability to improve on their silver medal from the team event at the 2016 Rio Games.
Nagornyy, who has dominated men's gymnastics in recent years, said the Russian team needed to step up their performance in the final.
"Nothing was really great because we have an injured gymnast on our team," Nagornyy said. "He has already recovered but still we had problems."
The Russians will face a Chinese team invigorated by inspired performances from Xiao Ruoteng and Sun Wei, who finished third and fourth all-around in qualifications.
Japan's Daiki Hashimoto finished first all-around with 88.531 points, just over half a point ahead of Nagornyy.
The 19-year-old, part of the Japanese team that won bronze at the 2019 world championships, said Japan was eager to improve on that result.
"There are three of us who remember the pain of two years ago," Hashimoto said. "We may not have a lot of experience, but in terms of skill, I think we have more than in Rio."
Japan took gold in the all-around at the 2016 Rio Games, and Kohei Uchimura, who failed to qualify for finals in Tokyo, took the all-around title.
The United States, Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Ukraine will be joining the Russian Olympic Committee, China and Japan in Monday's eight-team final.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Elaine Lies; Editing by Karishma Singh)