Varna, Bulgaria, June 15, 2018 - A stellar all-round performance from Jean Patry guided France to a convincing victory over Bulgaria and a perfect start to phase four of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Friday.
Patry finished with 16 points, including 4 blocks, to lead a businesslike France to a 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-23) triumph - their eighth win of the VNL. Julien Lyeel (11 points) and Barthelemy Chinenyeze (2 blocks) were other notable contributors in a well-rounded performance from France as coach Laurent Tillie emptied the bench to underline his team's depth.
An erratic Bulgaria struggled in front of their home fans at the Palace of Culture and Sport but Valentin Bratoev (8 points) produced moments of brilliance particularly during the highly competitive third set. A slumping Bulgaria have lost six of their past seven VNL matches to sit precariously with a 3-7 record.
The one-sided result continued France's domination over Bulgaria having now won the past four matches and the outcome never really looked in doubt.
Bulgaria suffered an instant blow with Todd Skrimov injuring a calf on the first point of the match but they attempted a brave rally after the early setback with Bratoev producing an imperious kill followed by menacing serving to spark the home crowd. However, France gained control through their imposing frontline which thwarted Bulgaria's attack as they skipped out to a 9-5 advantage.
Cunning serving from Kevin Tillie proved a handful as France held sway and took advantage of a Bulgarian side looking rattled by Skrimov's early exit. Bulgaria were being made to work for points but strong blocking from Svetoslav Gotsev breathed some life into the contest and fuelled the fans, who had been subdued in the early stages.
The hosts claimed five of six points forcing a timeout from an angry Laurent Tillie and his players immediately responded with a thumping put away from Lyneel giving them a 22-18 lead. France were steady rather than spectacular but that was enough for them to wrap up a scrappy first set in 27 minutes.
Bulgaria made the perfect start to the second set through a Nikolay Penchev ace but could not consistently produce the goods as France rattled off six of seven points. Just when it appeared they were wilting, Bulgaria fought back punctuated by a booming 102 kmh spike from Rozalin Penchev as the match tightened with scores deadlocked.
Once again, France skipped away with it as their class shone through stellar blocking from Patry and brutal blows from Chinenyeze as Les Bleus led 16-13 at the second technical timeout. A well organised France were setting up well in stark contrast to their opponents, who often looked out of sync, and the visitors deservedly claimed the second set to take firm control of the contest.
Scorching serving from Antoine Brizard, including one 108 kmh thunderbolt, propelled France to a fast start as they looked to wrap up the contest in straight sets. Following a familiar script from the opening two sets, Bulgaria were hanging on and remained in striking distance as the teams traded points.
France's blocking remained elite with Thibault Rossard taking command at the net as they were able to reel off a succession of points to break away. However, Bulgaria would not roll over as Bratoev lifted and smashed home a spike to level the scores at 15 apiece.
Veteran Boyan Yordanov made an immediate impact with a spike to once again deadlock the scores at 19 apiece as the crowd erupted in delight sensing a lifeline for their team. But a costly service error from Gotsev handed France a match point which they seized through a booming spike, fittingly, from Patry.
Bulgaria play a confident Canada on Saturday, while France face world number one Brazil in a mouthwatering contest.