U.S. advances to medal round despite loss

ATHENS, Greece -- Brazilian beach volleyball star Emanuel
had an extra reason to be upset when his nation's heralded men's
soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics.

Now, most of Brazil has pinned its gold-medal hopes on him and
partner Ricardo.

"They put all their confidence on us," Emanuel said. "I can
feel everybody cheering us."

So far, the world's top-ranked duo has handled the extra
pressure well. They routed Americans Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger
21-17, 21-10 on Thursday to finish a perfect run through pool play.

Despite the loss, the 12th-seeded Americans still advanced to
the medal round. They are the last hope for the United States to
win a third straight beach gold medal. The country's No. 1 pair,
Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard, was eliminated after three losses in
pool play.

Metzger was optimistic, even after Thursday's loss.

"We're playing the best ball of the year," he said. "A lot of
the small stuff, we've really tightened up. We're ready to roll. We
just ran into a freight train tonight."

The 16-team single-elimination medal round begins Friday. The
times of the games have not been determined.

Top-ranked Americans Misty May and Kerri Walsh open against
China's Tian Jia and Wang Fei. Fourth-ranked Holly McPeak and
Elaine Youngs face Eva Celbova and Sona Novakova, who lost 21-17,
21-17 to May and Walsh in pool play Thursday night. The Americans
could meet in Monday's semifinals.

Australians Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst, the 2000 gold
medalists who are now playing with different partners, will face
each other in their opening match.

On the men's side, Holdren and Metzger will play Germans Markus
Dieckmann and Jonas Reckermann, the world's fourth-ranked team.

As the medal round begins, no player has higher expectations to
fulfill than Emanuel, the winningest player in the history of the
international FIVB tour.

Twice, Emanuel has entered the Olympics as a medal contender.
Twice, he finished ninth -- in 1996 and 2000.

"In my first Olympics, I was too young. In the second, I was
not so confident," he said.

He says he's finally found the right partner in the 6-foot-7
Ricardo, who won the silver medal in Sydney. Ricardo is behind only
his partner on the FIVB's all-time wins list.

"Ricardo is very strong at the net and he can make me feel more
comfortable. I can be more aggressive," said the 6-3 Emanuel.

Their pool-play finale with the Americans was a rematch of the
gold-medal game in last year's FIVB World Championship in Rio de
Janeiro. The Brazilians won that match 21-18, 21-15.

The Americans weren't as competitive this time. Emanuel and
Ricardo never trailed and finished the match with a 16-5 spurt.

Holdren and Metzger realized before the match that they had
already qualified for the medal round and Metzger admitted losing
some intensity.

"Tonight was our giveaway night," Metzger said. "If we're
going to play like this on any night, this is the one."

Later Thursday, May and Walsh got their toughest test of the
tournament, but stayed unbeaten against the Czechs.

"It doesn't have to be pretty," Walsh said. "But to beat a
great team like that, playing less than stellar volleyball, that
makes me very happy."

The Americans and second-seeded Brazilians Shelda and Adriana
are the only duos -- men's or women's -- who have not dropped a set.

The Brazilian women, the 2000 silver medalists, capped their run
through pool play on Thursday with a 21-14, 21-19 win over Cubans
Fernandez Grasset and Larrea Peraza.

Adriana said the Brazilians need to play better in the medal

"If we make four or five mistakes in a row like we did in that
match, that's terrible. We can improve," she said.

The duo is sharing an apartment at the Olympic village with
fellow Brazilians Sandra and Ana Paula, the No. 3 seeds. Sandra and
Ana Paula were looking as dominant as Shelda and Adriana until a
21-18, 15-21, 11-15 loss on Thursday to ninth-seeded Germans
Susanne Lahme and Danja Musch.

The Brazilian women are not getting as much pressure to win as
the men are.

"I don't want to be in their shoes," Ana Paula said.
"Everybody is saying in Brazil, 'One gold medal is for sure.' We
try to explain to them that at the Olympics, anything can happen.
Fans say, 'No, no, no. It's right here in our hand.' They truly
believe Emanuel and Ricardo are going to win this medal."

Later Thursday, second-ranked Brazilians Marcio and Benjamin
lost to Germany's Christoph Dieckmann and Andreas Scheuerpflug
22-20, 21-17.