By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - World champions Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti of Brazil beat Latvians Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins in their men's Olympic beach volleyball semi-final on Tuesday, paving the way for Emanuel to attempt to recapture gold after eight years.
The 39-year-old Brazilian is competing in his fifth Olympics, having won medals in the last two. With former team mate Ricardo Santos, Emanuel won gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing in 2008.
Plavins and Smedins, who have never won a tournament together, enjoyed a terrific run of form at the London Games. They upset Americans Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in the quarter-finals, ending U.S. participation in the men's event at an unusually early stage.
But the Latvians could not get the better of the agile Emanuel and the powerful Alison, who have dominated the sport since they teamed up three years ago.
"When I started to play with Alison I was thinking 'I will play two more years and then think about quitting'," said Emanuel.
"But he put some fire inside of me, he brought motivation again. Every day we train together, I have something new to change my game. That's the good feeling I have about this final, because I'm playing with a young player who gives me everything."
In the final on Thursday, Emanuel and Alison will face either German former world champions Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann or Dutchmen Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil. The two teams play their semi-final at 6 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.
Against Plavins and Smedins, the Brazilians won the first set easily but were pushed harder in the second set. The world champions needed two match points to finish off the Latvians.
The final score was two sets to nil (21-15 22-20). Sets are normally played to 21 points but a two-point advantage is needed to win.
The Latvians, who will play the losers of the Dutch-German semi-final in the bronze medal match on Thursday, were already pleased with their Games.
"It's a dream come true. It's the highest result ever for Latvia in beach volleyball. We are happy that in the second set we got 20 points. It's great. I hope Emanuel and Alison win the gold medal because they really deserve it," said Plavins.
Emanuel is a player of such standing in the world of beach volleyball that there is a larger-than-life statue of him at the entrance to the Olympic venue.
His former team mate, Ricardo, also competed in the London Games but he and his new partner Pedro Cunha were knocked out by Brink and Reckermann in the quarter-finals on Monday.
It was a low point in Ricardo's illustrious Olympic career. The 37-year-old had competed in the three previous Games and won medals each time: silver in 2000 with Ze Marco de Melo, then gold and bronze in 2004 and 2008 with Emanuel.
But an even greater surprise in the London Games was the early exit of both American men's pairs, defending Olympic champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser and rivals Gibb and Rosenthal.
The United States had dominated Olympic men's beach volleyball since the sport made its Games debut in Atlanta. American teams won gold there in 1996, then in Sydney in 2000 and in Beijing in 2008.
The best result by a men's pair from Europe was a silver medal won by a Spanish team in 2004. With the Americans out of the way, the Europeans have a good chance to improve their record, but whoever faces Emanuel and Alison on Thursday will have their work cut out to stop the conquering Brazilians.
(Editing by Michael Holden)