BERLIN, Germany, 13 September - France defeated defending European Champion Serbia & Montenegro in Saturday's semifinal of the 2003 Men's European Championship here in Berlin to set up a finals clash with Italy on Sunday. Italy beat Russia earlier in the second semifinal.
The World Championship bronze medalist took the victory after a five sets thriller against Olympic champions and title holders Serbia and Montenegro for their upset 3-2 win that sent the French into a frenzy of celebration and effectively reshuffled the cards in top European Volleyball. The last time France appeared in a European final was 1987
Italy in the other semifinal downed Russia 3-0 for their finals berth.
By reaching the finals, France and Italy have also secured places in November's FIVB World Cup, the season's elite tournament in Japan where the top three teams qualify directly for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
'This was extremely tough match,' French coach Philippe Blain stated immediately after the match. 'It is nice to celebrate now, but we have to focus on the final. There is still one more match to play here.'
Serbian Goran Vujevic was the best scorer with 23 point, closely followed by French spikes Laurent Capet who made 21 points.
Italy pulled off another surprise when they demolished powerhouse Russia in the other semi in just over one hour.
Lefthander Andrea Sartoretti was the star on the Italian side raking up 23 points for the Squadra Azzura, a dazzling title compared to Russia's top scorers Serguei Tetioukhine and Alexei Koulechov, who made eight points each,
'We played excellent and used the tactics we had to use against Russia,' said Italian head coach Gian Paolo Montali. 'If you want to beat Russia, you have to do it exactly the same way as we did.'
'Our aim was to reach the final,' Italian captain Andrea Giani added. 'We achieved it, but I didn't expect it would be so easy.'
Russian captain Vadim Khamouttskikh said he was not sure what went wrong with the usually powerful team. 'We simply didn't find our rhythm from the start of the match.'
France and Italy already me tin the preliminary pool round when Italy won the match played in Karlsruhe 3-1.
Netherlands and Poland both won their classification matches for places 5-8. The victories were important as both teams now directly qualified for the European Championship 2005, which will be played in Serbia & Montenegro and Italy. They also secured a spot in the European Olympic Qualification tournament which will be held in Leipzig, Germany in January.
The Dutch team defeated Spain 3-2 after saving one match point in the fifth set. Richard Schuil, best scorer of the tournament so far, put 32 points on the score board.
Poland won 3-1 against hosts Germany who seemed unable to retain the high level they did during the first matches of the preliminary pool phase. German star Christian Pampel scored 25 points. On the Polish side Piotr Gruszka made 21 points. Got to www.volleyball2003.de for results and standings