By Ian Ransom

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Asia's stranglehold over world badminton loosened on Tuesday as two gritty Danish women toppled a Chinese dynasty and gave Europe hope of a first Olympic title in 20 years.

Veterans Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl stunned China's world number two pair Yu Yang and Tang Yuanting 21-16 14-21 21-19 to reach the women's doubles final and secure Denmark a first medal in the event.

Spanish world champion Carolina Marin then humbled South Korea's Sung Ji-hyun 21-12 21-16 to book a semi-final in the women's singles.

No European shuttler has topped the Olympic podium since Danish great Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen floored China's Dong Jiong in the men's singles at Atlanta in 1996.

But Pedersen and Rytter Juhl are well-positioned to end the drought, despite a tough assignment against Japan's top seeds Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi in Thursday's decider.

"We have been dreaming about this for so long," beamed 32-year-old Rytter Juhl.

"It means a lot. Maybe this was our last chance at the Olympics -- we are not getting younger ... So of course we are so happy to get a medal."

By knocking out the last Chinese pair, the Danes ended the Asian superpower's 20-year tyranny over Olympic women's doubles.

In the final match of the evening watched by a threadbare crowd, Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei thrashed Xu Chen and Ma Jin in an all-China clash for the mixed doubles bronze, but it was scant consolation.

The badminton superpower had hoped to defend its clean sweep of all five titles at London but their champions have been repeatedly foiled and the rest of the world has caught up.

"It seems like Europe is starting to go up and it's really important that it isn't Chinese always in the final," world number one Marin laughed.

An hyper-aggressive, yelping force, the flamenco-trained dancer from Andalucia was too fleet-footed for seventh-ranked Sung and will hope to stamp all over China's reigning champion Li Xuerui in Thursday's mouthwatering semi-final.

World number three Li is the last woman standing for China, with London silver medalist Wang Yihan upset 22-20 21-19 by India's Sindhu Pusarla in a riveting contest.

The 21-year-old Hyderabadi will face Japan's Nozomi Okuhara for a place in the title-decider.

China are assured of at least silver in the men's doubles, however, after London champion Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan ended the dream run of Britons' Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge in the semi-finals with a 21-14 21-18 win.

Fu and Zhang will vie for gold against the fired-up Malaysian pair of Goh V. Shem and Tan Wee Kiong who played out of their skins to defeat China's Chai Biao and Hong Wei 21-18 12-21 21-17.

The 12th-ranked Malaysians gave their nation another chance to win its first ever Olympic gold after compatriots Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying won their mixed doubles semi-final on Monday.

Chan and Goh will strive for the long-awaited title on Wednesday against Indonesia's Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)