Varna, Bulgaria, June 16, 2018 - An energetic Earvin Ngapeth led a red-hot France past a slumping Brazil in phase four of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Saturday.
In a surprisingly lopsided affair between two powerhouse teams, Ngapeth (16 points) had a stellar all-round performance to fuel France to a convincing 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-23) victory over the world number one, who have suffered consecutive straight sets defeats in Bulgaria.
France have now won five straight games to consolidate their place at the top of the VNL with a 9-2 overall record and they also received solid contributions from Stephen Boyer (14 points) and Kevin Le Roux (7 blocks).
A rattled Brazil slip to 8-3 and have been unable to find their irresistible groove in phase four, most notably Wallace De Souza who scored a team-high 10 points but was well down from his lofty standards.
A composed France controlled the game through a dominant front line coupled with elite serving as their high-voltage game overwhelmed a struggling Brazil.
Amid a swirl of anticipation, the match started with a lengthy rally won by Brazil followed by a thunderous 112 kmh spike from Mauricio Borges Almeida Silva as the South Americans looked sharp in a determined bid to get back to their winning ways. Living up to the billing, there wasn't much between the two vaunted teams who traded points with gusto as France's front line was holding up against Brazil's renowned artillery highlighted by a booming block from Boyer to stymie Douglas Souza.
France were pressurising the left side through the firepower of Boyer as the spectacle was marked by high-voltage blows, desperate pickups and well-worked sets in an absorbing arm-wrestle. Neither team could string together points ensuring a tight affair until France reeled off five straight points largely through strong play at the net from middle blocker Le Roux, who was making his VNL debut, to take a handy 20-17 lead.
Another thundering stuff block from Le Roux punctuated France's dominance at the business end of the set as Ngapeth continued the momentum with a pair of aces as Les Bleus drew first blood to ensure the Olympic champions lost their fourth straight set in Varna.
A high-flying Boyer continued France's confidence to open the second set but Brazil hit back hard with Lucas Saatkamp proving hard to pass at the net as they entered the first technical timeout with an 8-6 lead.
Finally shaking off their stupor since arriving in Bulgaria, Brazil clicked into gear with De Souza making an impact to propel his team to a handy 11-7 advantage. Led by the spry Ngapeth, France mounted a brave comeback culminating in winning a pulsating rally to take the lead at 19-18 as Brazil were crumbling under the sustained pressure.
Through brilliance from Ngapeth, Le Roux and Barthelemy Chinenyeze, a composed France won five of seven points to claim the second set and gain a stranglehold of the match.
Having struggled during the opening two sets, De Souza tried to lift his output as he thumped a spike to help Brazil open the third set with an edge. In a mirror image of the previous sets, France impressively clawed back as Le Roux's menacing jump serving deadlocked the scores at 12 apiece as the Brazilians looked deflated knowing they were facing a second consecutive straight sets defeat.
Further compounding their grave situation, Brazil captain Bruno Mossa Rezende hobbled off the court with a leg injury but they fought bravely with the match tightening dramatically. With scores locked at 23, Thibault Rossard made the key spike and then, fittingly, Ngapeth sealed the deal to ensure France's hot streak continued.
Brazil plays hosts Bulgaria on Sunday to close out phase four, while France face Canada.