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Schweiner and Perusic got payback on French pair Krou and Gauthier-Rat

Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner entered the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour event in Itapema this week as the men’s team occupying the best position in the FIVB World Rankings at sixth place.

The Czech Olympians were naturally among the favourites to win a medal at the Meia Praia Beach, but an unexpected defeat to French qualifiers Youssef Krou and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat in their opening match raised some questions as to whether that was indeed on the cards.

Less than 48 hours later, the Europeans are just one win away from standing on the podium in Brazil and it was an encounter with the same French team that placed them in that position.

· Watch all the matches of the Itapema Challenge live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

After surviving a long day on Friday, when they played three matches, the Czechs found their best game on Saturday, when they defeated Polish Michal Bryl and Bartosz Losiak, the winners of the first-ever Beach Pro Tour event, last month’s Tlaxcala Challenge, with a dramatic three-set (12-21, 21-17, 23-21) Round of 16 victory.

Later, it was time to get revenge against Krou and Gauthier-Rat in front of a packed centre court, sending the French home with a straight-set (21-16, 21-17) victory in the quarterfinals and denying them the opportunity to fight for a medal in their first tournament as partners.

Quarterfinal highlights: Perusic/Schweiner vs. Krou/Gauthier-Rat

“I believe we had a much better performance today,” Schweiner commented. “We were a lot better in every step of our side-out system and that put them under pressure, which hadn’t happened before. We were ahead on the score basically the entire match and that gave us the confidence to push with our serves too. These were the main differences between the two matches.”

Guaranteed a place in the semifinals, the Czechs, who won two FIVB World Tour gold medals last year, could leap up the FIVB World Rankings following the conclusion of the event in Brazil. With the five teams ranked above them not competing in Itapema, and if they win their last two matches in Itapema, Perusic and Schweiner may find themselves in a higher position in the rankings once they are updated on Monday.

“Finishing fifth in Rosarito was a good result for us, but I’m happy we were able to go at least one step futher here, especially after we lost our opening match,” Perusic added. “We had to play quite a few matches in a short period and that was difficult, but we made it. There was an incredible atmosphere on the centre court in the quarterfinals and we’re already looking forward to playing there again in the semis.”

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Schweiner hits during the match against the French

To continue on their path to win their third international gold medal as partners, the Czechs will have to eliminate Estonians Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tiisaar on Sunday at 12.00 local time. The Europeans had a highly successful Saturday in Itapema, knocking down Brazilian Olympians Evandro Goncalves and Alvaro Filho 2-1 (18-21, 21-18, 15-13) in the Round of 16 and eliminating Austrians Martin Ermacora and Moritsz Pristauz in two sets (21-16, 21-11) in the quarterfinals.

The Czechs and Estonians have played each other twice in their careers and while Perusic and Schweiner won the two encounters, on both occasions the matches were resolved in the tie-breaker.

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Tiisaar smiles after scoring a point against the Austrians

The other semifinal, which will start at 13.30, will feature Brazilians Andre Loyola, who has been highly successful in Itapema, and partner George Wanderley, facing the sensations of the tournament, Dutch pair Leon Luini and Ruben Penninga, who won five of their six matches in Brazil to advance from the qualifier to the medal rounds.

Andre and George continued their perfect campaign in Itapema with a straight-set (21-19, 23-21) victory over Italians Paolo Nicolai and Samuele Cottafava in the quarterfinals, while Luini and Penninga caused another upset, this time against Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk, knocking the Americans out with a two-set (21-14, 21-19) win.

Schalk/Brunner vs. Luini/Penninga - Match Highlights

The Challenge events represent one of the three levels of the Beach Pro Tour. They are ranked between the Elite16, which feature the highest level of the sport, and the Futures, which offer young, up-and-coming players access to international beach volleyball, and feed into the elite of the sport.