Modena, Italy, June 24, 2018 – It was all about France as they bounced back from their disappointing straight sets loss over Italy yesterday with a commanding 3-0 win (25-20, 25-13, 25-18) over European Champions Russia.
With both teams already confirmed as progressing this was only for pride and to entertain the crowd at the Pala Panini as it grew to its 5,000 capacity in preparation for Italy’s final match in the competition against the USA. After the full 15 matches, Les Bleus finish with 12 wins and Russia 11 – but regardless these two will be split for the Final 6 with the remaining match deciding who will join each in their respective pools.
Following this result France are on a four-match winning streak against Russia at world level, but none of the previous encounters were as comfortable as this one. Their coach Laurent Tillie cut a confident figure as his biggest names all came to the party. Earvin Ngapeth is the ultimate Volleyball showman and he top scored with 13 points, closely followed by Kevin Le Roux who rose at key times to suppress any Russian momentum and subsequent chances of a comeback, and the ever-reliable Stephen Boyer on 12.
After the match Ngapeth commented: “We played very good, yesterday we made a bad game but we had a good reaction and are pleased to win against this big team. We knew they were very physical and we spoke before about reception and defence. Ahead of the finals we are very happy to have the Final 6 in France and for our team it will be a very good occasion.”
On the opposite side of the net Sergei Shliapnikov will be disappointed, he had bigger names to put on from the bench but chose to ride it out with his starting team. If these two sides face off again you can be sure his choices will be slightly different. Top scorer for Russia was Romanas Shkulyavichus with 11 points but many of the other key members of the team struggled to establish themselves in the match.
France's winning run of seven matches at the VNL ended with a 3-0 defeat against Italy on Saturday and they did the same to Russia here. The round robin stage of the competition concludes for these two with a match only for bragging rights but things will be very different if these two face each other in Lille on the 4-8 July for the Final 6.
The first set started with both teams evidently released from the pressure of normal competition but it was the team in Blue who relished this more. Point of the set was a monster pipe attack from Kevin Tillie at 17-18 down which registered 114.4 kph. France ran away with it in the twenties and so ended Russia’s run of five consecutive VNL victories being secured in straight sets.
It was 8-4 to France at the first technical of the second set, but France would have been disappointed not to be taking a drink with a larger advantage. Back on the court and Russia continued to push through captain Dmitry Volkov but a moment of magic from Earvin Ngapeth as he passed a serve and ran a middle quickly halted their momentum.
The French lead was 16-11 but impressively the Russian opposite, Romanas Shkulyavichus, had scored 5 of the 11. Quickly closing in on a 2-0 lead France proved to be good front runners punishing any mistake from the Russian side and creating opportunities whenever they needed. It ended with Russia’s heaviest set defeat of the VNL as France ran away with it 25-13.
With Russia showing signs of being more competitive in the third set they stuck with France until the first interval. From here Kevin Le Roux put in a number of impressive blocks building a lead of 10-7. This brought him to the service line when a number of powerful jump serves extended the lead further to 12-7. For 6 points he was simply unplayable and Russia will have been wishing they had Dmitriy Muserskiy available to them – but he was still missing from the Russia squad.
Fittingly it was Ngapeth who scored the winning point with a powerful pipe attack as it was he and Le Roux who were the key throughout the match as the top two faced off in the prelude to the Finals.
Both teams will now head off for 10 days of final preparations and will surely start as joint favourites to take the inaugural Volleyball Nations League title in a fortnights time.