Dmitry Volkov receives the VNL trophy from FIVB President Ary Graça
Lausanne, Switzerland, December 23, 2018 – Russia delivered a sensational 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-13) shutout of pre-tournament favourites and finals hosts France to claim the inaugural men's FIVB Volleyball Nations League title. Lille's Pierre Mauroy stadium was transformed into the ultimate state-of-the-art volleyball venue for the competition's finals, which were played from July 4 to 8.
The preliminary round of the new tournament featured a round robin format with 16 teams (12 core and four challenger participants) playing against each other over a five-week period. The best six of the preliminary round – France, Russia, USA, Serbia, Brazil and Poland, in that order – qualified for the men’s finals in Lille.
Meanwhile, a second-tier FIVB event, the Volleyball Challenger Cup, also launched in 2018, saw its first winners Portugal qualify for the 2019 edition of the VNL replacing bottom-placed challenger team South Korea.
France, on a 12-3 win-loss record, and Russia, on 11-4, took the first two places in the final standings of the preliminary round, clearly stating their intentions to fight for the crown.
In their opening match of Pool B at the final round, the Russians lost a set to Poland, which turned out to be the only one they would drop over the course of their entire campaign in Lille. In their second match they shut out USA to cement their hold on first place in the pool. Coach Sergei Shliapnikov’s squad showed their magic again for an emphatic straight-set win over mighty Brazil in the semifinals.
Hosts France had a difficult start in Lille, having to come back from a set down twice in their Pool A opener before narrowly defeating Brazil in the tie-break. They then cruised to a convincing 3-0 victory over Serbia to win the pool. In the semis, the hosts narrowly survived another five-set match against the United States, which may have taken its toll in terms of energy before the big showdown in the final.
Over ten thousand spectators flocked to Stade Pierre Mauroy for the final, hoping to see France win that precious gold, but despite a 16-point contribution by French star Earvin Ngapeth they were outplayed by the Russians, led by a breathtaking display of volleyball skills by opposite Maxim Mikhaylov (top scorer with 19 points, including three aces) on the way to a straight-set victory. This was the first world-level title for Russia since the World League gold in 2013.
"It's wonderful!” coach Shliapnikov exclaimed. “We worked hard and for a long time, and it paid off. We knew that if the French passed the ball well, it would be difficult for our middle blockers, so we focused on our serving."
The third place match took just three sets to complete, but the last two went well into overtime. They were snatched by USA who claimed the bronze after a 3-0 (25-21, 28-26, 28-26) win over Brazil.
With Volleyball USA already announced as the host national federation for the next three editions of the men’s finals, the FIVB will look to build on the hugely successful inaugural edition of the VNL in 2019.