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'The Lion King' Samoilovs celebrates after a challenging day in Espinho

Four years after they won an FIVB World Tour gold medal in Espinho, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins are two steps away from standing at the top of the podium at the Praia da Baia again as the Latvians are among the semifinalists of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge tournament held in the Portuguese city this week.

The Latvian veterans are set to face Poles and fellow Olympians Michal Bryl and Bartosz Losiak in the second semifinal of the men’s tournament, on Sunday, at 12.30 local time (11.30 GMT). The other semifinal encounter, which will start one hour earlier, will see another Polish team, Piotr Kantor and Maciej Rudol, play against Austrians Martin Ermacora and Moritz Pristauz.

The men’s gold medal match in Espinho will begin later at 17.30 (16.30 GMT), one hour after the scheduled start time for the bronze medal match.

· Watch all the matches at the Espinho Challenge live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

Samoilovs, 37, and Smedins, 34, rebounded from a pool play defeat on Friday with a pair of wins on Saturday, which qualified them for the semifinals of a Beach Pro Tour event for the first time since the Tlaxcala Challenge, in March.

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Smedins and Carambula battle at the net

The Latvians had to sweat to remain alive in Espinho, however, as both of their elimination matches were decided in three sets. In the first of them, in the Round of 16, the veterans came from behind to oust Dutch pair Leon Luini and Ruben Penninga 2-1 (14-21, 21-15, 15-12).

In the quarterfinals, Samoilovs and Smedins came out on top of a heated and entertaining battle with Italians and fellow Olympians Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, winning the match in three sets (21-19, 14-21, 15-11).

“We used to have the same coach as Adrian and Enrico for the last two years and we used to practice together a lot,” Samoilovs commented. “We used to have a lot of fun and to poke on each other when we played in practise and that’s what happened today. We’re very happy that we won and to be back in the semifinals after some time. We always feel good here in Espinho, the sand is very deep and that suits our game pretty well. We won gold here a few years ago and we’re happy to be back in the semifinals and to get to play in front of these amazing fans for another day.”

Samoilovs/Smedins vs. Carambula/Rossi - Match Highlights

Winners of the Challenge events in Tlaxcala and Doha, Bryl and Losiak also had a complicated start to their day, needing all three sets (19-21, 21-17, 15-10) to eliminate Danish qualifiers Kristoffer Abell and Jacob Brinck in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, the Poles found their best rhythm to top Swiss pair Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer in straight sets (21-17, 21-13).

Losiak’s former partner Kantor and his new teammate Rudol also had a three-setter (16-21, 21-15, 15-13) to start the day in the Round of 16 against Czechs Vaclav Bercik and Matyas Dzavoronok. In the quarterfinal, the two once again turned a first-set loss into a three-set (18-21, 21-17, 19-17) triumph against Dutch team Christiaan Varenhorst and Steve van de Velde to move forward to their first semifinal appearance in just six events as partners.

Varenhorst/van de Velde vs. Kantor/Rudol - Match Highlights

Ermacora and Pristauz had a familiar duel in the Round of 16, where they defeated compatriots Alexander Horst and Julian Horl in the tie-breaker (21-15, 24-26, 15-13). Later, in the quarterfinals, they handled Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Popov and Eduard Reznik in two sets (21-19, 21-16) to secure their second semifinal appearance in the Beach Pro Tour following a third-place finish in Doha in May.