Lille, France, July 4, 2018 - Stephen Boyer steered hosts France to an impressive 5-set victory 3-2 (22-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 15-13) over Olympic champions Brazil in the men's FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final Six to put them in pole position to qualify for the semifinals.
This was a high quality Pool A encounter in Lille between two giants of the men's game, and at times the match threatened to boil over with Earvin Ngapeth and Brazil setter Bruno Rezende exchanging words frequently. Ngapeth - clearly fired up - was outstanding while there were also monumental performances from French top scorer Stephen Boyer, who notched 25 points, and Brazilian pair Bruno and Wallace Da Souza - the VNL's second top scorer. Preliminary round table toppers France were also indebted to a boisterous home crowd as they backed up their 3-0 win over Brazil in the Preliminary Round with one that could go a long way to sending them to the semifinals.
Boyer did the business for Les Bleus, scoring 22 spikes and 3 blocks in a wonderful individual performance, while Ngapeth (23 points) and Nicolas Le Goff (8 points) were a classy support cast with the latter particularly prominent as a blocker. The French looked set to lose in front of an expectant crowd with Brazil in control, but they showed wonderful togetherness and spirit to grind out the two points.
Brazil came into this match on the back of 4 defeats in their last 6 Preliminary Round matches as they finished 5th in the table, but they are seasoned veterans having secured podium finishes in an astonishing 30 of their last 33 world-level tournaments. Bruno led from the front with some mesmerising set play while Wallace thumped home 21 points from out wide. But the South Americans missed Mauricio, who was forced off with a knee injury in the 3rd set, as they let slip a 2-sets-to-1 lead.
Brazil were a class apart in the opening set as they displayed attacking verve and defensive rigidity in equal measure. Renan Dal Zotto's men scorched into an 8-3 lead by the first technical timeout with libero Thales Hoss and setter Bruno dictating the tempo, while Wallace and Lucas Loh provided the attacking threat out wide. At 10-3 down, the hosts were in danger of being blown away, but they rallied without really threatening to take the set with the South Americans deservedly wrapping it up 25-22.
2017 World League winners France, who had won more sets (38) than any other team prior to the Final Six, were a completely different side in the second set. Boyer was getting into the game more and his powerful spike made it 11-8 before the French blockers took command. Brazil have plenty of firepower out wide but Boyer and Le Goff were instrumental in shutting out the likes of Wallace and Lucas Loh. A tremendous double block from Ngapeth and Le Goff sealed the set, 25-20.
The third set began with French momentum with libero Jenia Grebennikov and setter Benjamin Toniutti beginning to get on top, but Brazil are a hardened tournament team and they produced an incredible tournaround. Lucas Saatkamp was becoming more of a threat and Bruno was the maestro behind Brazil's slick attacking play as they led 16-12 at the second technical timeout. Mauricio produced a serving masterclass before going off injured, but Brazil went on to clinch the set 25-21 thanks to some powerful spikes from Lucas, Wallace and Evandro Guerra.
Set 4 was an electric spectacle with both sides playing some sumptuous volleyball. Ngapeth finished off a mega rally of world-class quality as the hosts seized the initiative. France needed to force a decider and they were never behind in the set. A superb William Arjona block briefly hauled Brazil level at 16-16 with French nerves frayed, but Laurent Tillie's men composed themselves to take the set, 25-22, with Brazilian serves suddenly going astray.
Into the deciding set and this was anyone's match. Ngapeth finished off a huge rally to get French noses in front but Brazil rallied with Douglas Souza and Wallace nudging them into a slender 3-2 lead. Both sides continued to slug it out before a wonderful Thibault Rossard serve put Les Bleus 2 points clear. Renan Dal Zotto's men were hindered by too many serving errors with Wallace's poor delivery handing the hosts match point at 14-12; Brazil saved one but France got over the line (15-13) to edge this gripping contest - just their 9th victory in 37 attempts against the Brazilians. Brazil though do pick up a point and will need to beat Serbia to make the semis.