France beat Slovenia to win European Men's Volleyball title
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France claimed a historic European Championship volleyball title with a straight sets (25-19, 29-27, 29-27) win over Slovenia in Sofia Sunday, adding to their World League triumph earlier this season.
Despite a spirited display by a Slovenian team backed by the majority of the vociferous supporters in the Bulgarian capital, France showed steel and determination to claim their first ever European crown and cap off an incredible season for Laurent Tillie’s team.
France, powered by the ever-impressive Antonin Rouzier, voted the tournament’s MVP, grabbed the match by the throat in the first set, dominating the serve to race into a 16-12 lead at the second technical timeout and hanging on to claim the first set.
But they were not to have at it all their own way and Slovenia battled back to give France a dramatic second set, capitalising on some poor service reception to take an early 8-3 lead.
France soon levelled the score at 17-all, but Slovenia regained the lead to give themselves three set balls at 21-19. They couldn’t take advantage, however, and after France missed a set ball of their own, an ace from Rouzier finally ended the set 29-27 in France’s favour.
Slovenia slumped to a 9-5 deficit early in the final set and despite a fight-back were unable to prevent France from giving themselves a chance to seal the championship at 28-27. They did so in style, with Earvin Ngapeth executing a no-look spike to send the French team into raptures.
After their surprise World League victory in July, the French players and coach had faced the unfamiliar weight of expectation coming into these European Championships and were pleased to show they could cope.
“This is huge,” captain Benjamin Toniutti told Bein Sport. “I think a lot of teams thought our World League victory was just a fluke. But with this European Championship, we have shown it was not luck and that this is a great team.”
"It's beautiful, it's a great result, it was a great campaign,” Tillie said. “It's amazing knowing where we came from.”
Focus will now shift to qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics, said the coach.
“We are ready to give everything to qualify for Rio,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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