Men’s semifinal preview: First European champion?

by | August 7, 2012 at 8:48 AM | General, Olympics

Jon Ackerman, NBC Olympics

LONDON — U.S. men have won gold at three of the four Olympics in which beach volleyball has been played. They won’t win anything in London.

Both Todd Rogers/Phil Dalhausser (the No. 2 seed) and Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal (No. 4) had podium aspirations this year, but each pair was upset by double-digit seeds. Reigning champions Rogers and Dalhausser fell in the round of 16, while 2008 Olympic fifth-place finishers Gibb and Rosenthal took the same result in 2012.

That leaves a final four consisting of No. 1 Brazil and three teams from Europe, which has never won an Olympic beach volleyball gold medal. Here’s a look at Tuesday’s semifinal matchups:

No. 1 Alison Cerutti/Emanuel Rego, BRA vs. No. 17 Martins Plavins/Janis Smedins, LAT
Both of the American upsets were shocking, but Latvia’s take down of Gibb and Rosenthal on Monday was more stunning. The Americans held the season’s No. 1 ranking coming in, while the Latvians hadn’t even reached a semifinal since last season. However, that one appearance came at the 2011 World Championships, the second-biggest tournament after the Olympics. They finished fourth.

The winners of the 2011 Worlds were Alison and Emanuel, who haven’t always been dominant, but have been the most consistent men’s team for the past two years. They were surprisingly pushed in their first pool match here by No. 24 Austria, and not-as-surprisingly challenged in their quarterfinal victory Monday over No. 9 Poland.

But Emanuel may be the sport’s all-time greatest player, still elite at 39 and in his fifth Olympics. And Alison may be the game’s best player right now, as he was named best blocker, hitter and offensive player last year. His 28 blocks in London are second overall.

These pairs have never previously faced each other.

No. 3 Julius Brink/Jonas Reckermann, GER vs. No. 5 Richard Schuil/Reinder Nummerdor, NED
These two teams own the past five European Championships — Brink and Reckermann won in 2011 and 2012; Schuil and Nummerdor from 2008-10 — but none of the four own an Olympic medal. Well, on the beach at least. Schuil won an indoor volleyball gold medal in 1996, and if he were to win in London, he’d join Karch Kiraly as only the second athlete to win Olympic medals in both indoor and beach volleyball.

The Dutch are one of five men’s teams to win two events this season prior to London (Emanuel/Alison are another), including the Grand Slam in Klagenfurt, Austria, a week before the Olympics. But they haven’t faced Brink and Reckermann this year, and trail the all-time series with the Germans 5-2.

Brink and Reckermann skipped the first two months of the season as Reckermann dealt with a shoulder injury, but they’re peaking now. They’ve lost just one set all week, and their thorough quarterfinal defeat of Ricardo Santos and Pedro Cunha, a medal-contending Brazilian duo, was impressive.

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