LONDON German former world champions Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann disposed of a popular Latvian team at the Olympic beach volleyball men's event on Saturday to maintain their position as Europe's best hopes of crashing an American and Brazilian party.
Earlier, Chinese pair Xue Chen and Zhang Xi powered into the women's quarter finals with an easy win over a Russian pair that soothed the pain of their shock defeat to another Russian team in their first pool match.
Brink and Reckermann beat Ruslans Sorokins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs by two sets to nil (21-12, 21-17) to set up what will be a tough quarter final against Brazilians Ricardo Santos and Pedro Cunha.
The muscular Samoilovs, a natural showman nicknamed the Lion King for his mane of curly blond locks, had played well during the pool phase and won over the crowds with his theatrical celebrations after scoring good points.
But Samoilovs appeared out-of-sorts on Saturday on a windy court at Horse Guards Parade, the spectacular Olympic arena with views of Big Ben and the London Eye, and despite the crowd roaring for him and Sorokins, the Latvians suffered a drubbing.
"We are very sad, very sad. We played badly," said Sorokins.
An unusually subdued Samoilovs blamed himself for the defeat. "You can't make that many mistakes when you are playing at this level," he said.
The experienced Germans, the 2009 world champions, are in a stronger-than-expected position after their side of the draw was opened up when defending Olympic champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser of the United States crashed out on Friday.
Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai beat the Americans by two sets to nil in the biggest upset of the tournament.
But the prudent Brink said insiders in the beach volleyball world circuit had not been as surprised as everyone else because all the teams competing in London were of a very high level.
"When you watch a little bit behind the scenes you see that the teams are so close," Brink said.
BEWARE THE BRAZILIANS
He and Reckermann will have their work cut out against Ricardo and Cunha. Ricardo is in his fourth Olympics, having won medals in the three previous Games with two former partners. He was a gold medalist with Emanuel Rego in Athens in 2004.
Emanuel is also competing in London with his own new team mate, Alison Cerutti. They were in action earlier on Saturday, easily beating another German pair, Jonathan Erdmann and Kay Matysik, by two sets to nil (21-16 21-14).
The two Brazilian men's teams are strong medal contenders as are the remaining Americans, Sean Rosenthal and Jake Gibb. On paper, Brink and Reckermann are the Europeans most likely to challenge the North and South American teams for glory.
In the women's event, Zhang and Xue, surprise bronze medalists in Beijing in 2008, came to London with high expectations but under-performed on the first day.
They recovered their poise on Saturday, as Russia's Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Khomyakova learnt to their cost.
"We found our own style and our own tactics. We didn't change the way we play for the Russians, we just played our own way," said Xue after the pair won by two sets to nil, with the emphatic score of 21-12, 21-11.
The Russian pair who had beaten the Chinese in the pool phase, Anastasia Vasina and Anna Vozakova, were eliminated late on Friday by Austrian sisters Doris and Stefanie Schwaiger. Russian participation in the women's event is now over.
The Chinese, whose engaging personalities have made them popular on the beach volleyball world tour, said they were enjoying London in a way that had been impossible in Beijing.
"Here is better than Beijing. The people are so warm," said Xue, while Zhang added: "The pressure in Beijing ... So we really enjoy it here." Both chuckled at the memories.
Saturday is the second and final day of men's and women's round-of-16 matches. The women's quarter finals are scheduled for Sunday and the men's for Monday.
(Editing by Nigel Hunt)