LONDON (Reuters) - Brazil's Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca staged a dazzling comeback to win bronze in the women's Olympic beach volleyball on Wednesday by beating China's Xue Chen and Zhang Xi after being within two points of losing.
Xue and Zhang looked unstoppable in the first set, which they won 21-11, and took an early lead in the second set. But Juliana and Larissa, the reigning world champions, recovered their fighting spirit and drew level.
The second set was too close to call almost until it was over. Xue and Zhang led 19-17 but the Brazilians held their nerve, clawed their way back and clinched it 21-19.
The third set was also a close affair, with the Brazilians holding onto a narrow lead but the Chinese mounting powerful attacks until the end. The Brazilian pair finally nailed the set and the match 15-12.
Juliana and Larissa arrived in London as the favourites but their dreams of gold unravelled when they were upset in the semi-finals by Americans Jennifer Kessy and April Ross on Tuesday.
Xue and Zhang, bronze medallists in Beijing, had been expected to do better than in the last Games but they lost to the reigning champions, Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, in their semi-final.
May-Treanor and Walsh won gold in Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing. They are the only beach volleyball team, men's or women's, to win Olympic gold twice.
The two American pairs meet in the gold medal match at 2000 GMT on Wednesday.
Juliana and Larissa, who have been playing together since 2004, are six-times winners of the professional beach volleyball world tour. They also won last year's world championships.
The Brazilians were unable to play together at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 because Juliana was out with a knee injury. Larissa teamed up with Ana Paula and they came fifth.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon)