By Brad Haynes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Russia's fencers stormed back against France in the closing minutes of the team foil final to clinch gold on Friday, while the U.S. men beat defending champions Italy for bronze, their first medal in the event since 1932.

Trailing to France through each of their first seven bouts, the Russian team surged into the lead with one match-up left thanks to Alexey Cheremisinov and Artur Akhmatkhuzin, who outscored the French 19-8 in just two of their bouts.

"It was the team spirit and we believed in ourselves," said Cheremisinov, who on Sunday lost his first match in the individual competition to teammate Timur Safin.

Russia has collected six fencing medals, three gold, so far in Rio, better than any other sport at the Games. They have already turned in their best Olympic fencing performance since 1996, the last time they won men's team foil.

The bronze medal bout offered a dose of revenge to the same U.S. foil team that lost their semifinal to Italy in 2012 - an American squad in their early twenties that has fought hard to make a name in fencing's most widespread weapon.

"When we were growing up, we'd face the Italians because we were one of the lowest ranked teams. They were number one so we'd always face them early. And we just got consistently crushed," said U.S. teammate Race Imboden.

"So to come to the Olympic Games and not only fence them for a medal but to send them home without one ... It's symbolic in men's foil," he added. "This is bigger than us. This is something that U.S. fencing has built together over years."

The British team, featuring two of the top six foil fencers coming into the Games, lost a tough opening match to Russia 43-45 before beating Egypt and falling short against China to take sixth place.

The scrappy Brazilian team kept the arena roaring through much of the day and came within a few touches of beating China, but finished eighth after losing their last match to Egypt.

(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)