Austria's Clement Doppler, left, tries to block, Cuba's Nivaldo Diaz Gomez during a men's beach volleyball round of 16 match (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) _ Nobody knew much _ if anything _ about the Cuban men's beach volleyball team when they showed up in Rio. The tandem of Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez had played in only one major international competition before and took an unusual path to the Olympics through a regional qualifier.
Even through pool play, when the Cubans went unbeaten, the team failed to earn much respect. Diaz and Gonzalez beat Brazil's No. 2 team, the fourth-overall seed, as well as Canada, Latvia and a German team that had a pair of three-time Olympians.
Said Janis Smedins after Latvia's loss: "They are pretty good, they are stable, but nothing special."
Well, they might be the surprise on Copacabana beach.
The Cubans advanced to the quarterfinals on Friday with a straight-sets victory over Austria.
Gonzalez said being new to international play has probably helped them advance.
"We have a lot of respect for all of the players, but they don't have a lot of information about us and that makes the game a little more complicated," he said.
Austria's Clemens Doppler noted that no one in the field knew what to expect from the Cubans becaus,e after finishing ninth in last year's world championships "they disappeared." With almost no ability to scout the Cubans, teams are seeing their style of play for the first time.
"If they continue to play like that, I think they have a very strong chance to have a medal here," Doppler said, adding that they seemed very relaxed. "I don’t think they have a mental game. They seem like they really don’t care. They play easy."