Jon Ackerman, NBC Olympics
LONDON — The good news for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings: Both Brazilian teams and the other American pair are on the opposite side of the bracket. The bad news: They received the toughest round-of-16 matchup of any women’s team that won its pool.
The FIVB conducted the draws for the men’s and women’s elimination rounds Thursday night after the completion of pool play, and both May-Treanor/Walsh Jennings and Americans Jen Kessy/April Ross seemed to be in good position after each duo went 3-0 in its group. But Kessy and Ross’ Pool D was so tough that the No. 9 overall seed, Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands, placed third at 1-2.
When determining the matchups for the round of 16, the two-best third-placed teams are dropped into a bowl, mixed up, and drawn out to see who plays the No. 3 and 4 seeds. But by rule, teams that faced in pool play can’t meet in the first round of elimination.
That meant Keizer and Van Iersel, who fell to Kessy and Ross on Tuesday in a tight match, had to play May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, the No. 3 seed, because Kessy and Ross are No. 4.
If May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings are to win a third straight gold medal, they will definitely earn it. Should they get past the Dutch, they likely will face sixth-seeded Italians Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti. If the Americans reach the semis, they are likely to face No. 2 Xue Chen and Zhang Xi of China, the team that entered London with the best 2012 world ranking.
Kessy and Ross, meanwhile, face a tough 11th-seeded Swiss team in Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr on Friday. From there, they could face No. 5 Maria Antonelli and Talita Antunes of Brazil, then No. 1 Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Silva of Brazil in the semis.
Then, yes, it could be an All-American gold-medal match.
On the men’s side, both U.S. tandems are also on opposite sides of the bracket, leaving the possibility that we could see two All-American finals. U.S. men have squared off for gold before at the Olympics (1996), but the latest U.S. women have met is the semifinals (2004).
Long before we get there, though, second-seeded Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, the defending Olympic champions, first have to get past No. 13 Daniele Lupo/Paolo Nicolai of Italy. Fourth-seeded Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal open elimination against Serguey Prokopyev and Konstantin Semenov of Russia, No. 22 overall.
From there, Rogers and Dalhausser could face No. 5 Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil of the Netherlands, then No. 7 Ricardo Santos/Pedro Cunha of Brazil or No. 3 Jonas Reckermann/Julius Brink of Germany. Those Dutch and Brazilian teams have each won two titles this year, while the Germans were the 2009 world champs.
If Gibb and Rosenthal get to the quarters, their matchup figures to be easier than their compatriots’ by comparison, but if they reach the semifinals, they’re likely to face No. 1 Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti of Brazil. That would pit the two best men’s teams in the world this year against each other.
Let the real tournament begin.
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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.