The U.S. men looked good on the first day of main draw action at the FIVB Agadir Open in Morocco, the last international men's tournament of the year, as each of the three American duos started 2-0.
But they all won't stay unbeaten, as the two teams locked in a tight battle for the second U.S. Olympic berth -- Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal and Matt Fuerbringer/Nick Lucena -- will square off in the third round on Friday. And the winner of that match will then play compatriots Casey Jennings and Kevin Wong if they first defeat Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil of The Netherlands.
The 11th-seeded Fuerbringer and Lucena started Thursday off by cruising past 22nd-seeded Italian brothers Matteo and Paolo Ingrosso (21-13, 21-12). Then they notched a big win in their afternoon match, upsetting sixth-seeded Germans Jonathan Erdmann and Kay Matysik after dropping the first game (15-21, 21-19, 15-12).
The 14th-seeded Gibb and Rosenthal started their day off with a three-set victory over No. 19 Tarjei Skarlund and Martin Spinnangr of Norway (21-18, 18-21, 15-9), and finished it with a straight sets win over 30th-seeded Russians Yury Bogatov and Serguei Prokopiev (21-14, 21-17).
The match between Gibb/Rosenthal and Fuerbringer/Lucena will be their seventh meeting overall, with each team winning three times so far. The teams met twice last month in U.S. tournaments, each duo winning once.
But FIVB results are what matter for Olympic qualification, so each tandem is always aiming to finish better than the other. Entering Agadir, Gibb and Rosenthal are ninth overall in the Olympic rankings with 3,520 points, while Fuerbringer and Lucena are 11th with 3,340. If the Olympics started today, Fuerbringer/Lucena would be the highest-ranked team staying home, as only two teams from one country can go to the Olympics, and Americans Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are No. 1 in the rankings.
Agadir is a double-elimination tournament, so the loser of Friday's all-American match will not be eliminated, but will face a longer route to the medal round. The semifinals and medal matches are to be played Sunday.
The 23rd-seeded Jennings and Wong won both of their matches Thursday in straight sets, taking out No. 10 Volkan Gogtepe and Selcuk Sekerci of Turkey (22-20, 21-17) and No. 7 Wu Penggen and Xu Linyin of China (21-18, 21-19). The Americans beat Nummerdor and Schuil in their only previous meeting, but the Dutch duo is coming off a runner-up finish at the most recent FIVB tournament in The Hague, and on Thursday upset second-seeded Brazilians Pedro Cunha and Ricardo Santos (25-23, 21-18).
Rogers and Dalhausser, who are ranked No. 2 in the world, are not playing in Agadir because Rogers recently underwent knee surgery. The world's top-ranked team, Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego of Brazil, are also absent from Morocco.
Agadir is a men's-only tournament. The women's FIVB finale is the first week of November in Phuket, Thailand.