Berlin, Germany, Sept. 14, 2003 - Italy emerged victorious 3-2 ( 25:18, 40:42, 25:28, 27:29, 15:9) in a five set thriller against France to reclaim the Men's European title in a match that lasted almost two and a half hours and saw the lead change from one team to another and had the capacity crowd in the Max-Schmelling Halle on their feet for much of the match.
As European champions and vice champions, both teams have qualified for the World Cup in Japan in November, the FIVB's most important competition this season. the top three teams from the World Cup directly qualify for the Olympic tournament at Athens 2004.
Four years after winning the last European title, Italy became European Championships again, watched by almost 9,000 spectators. Russia claimed the bronze medal after defeating defending champion Serbia & Montenegro 3-1.
It's been a long time between drinks for Italy, who was the best team of the 1990's but under new coach Gian Paolo Montali, they played a great tournament, progressing through unbeaten and losing only four sets in the process.
"I am so happy with this title," Italian captain Andrea Giani said. "It is the fourth time that I have won the European Championship in my career and I am afraid that I will not make it to the next European Championship, so thatís why it is so great to win the title again."
The final was one of the exiting matches played in the history of European Volleyball. Italy took the first set and was leading by five points in the middle of the second one. This was the moment for France to start fighting. ĎLes Bleusí countered with great defense and fighting spirit to level the match by winning the second set 42-40, a record for European Championship Volleyball.
After Italy won the third set, the World League bronze medalist had match point at 24-23 in the fourth set. After a long and exciting rally, France saved the match point before going on to win the set. In the fifth set, Italy immediately jumped to a big lead. Two aces of Luigi Mastrangelo, the best blocker of the tournament, put Italy in the driving seat before the three-time World Champions claimed the European title on the third match point.
Andrea Sartoretti was the best scorer with 27 points and collected the Best Server and MVP-awards for the tournament. Samuele Papi, the Best Receiver of the tournament, recorded 24 points, while Mastrangelo scored 21. Laurent Capet and Franz Granvorka both made 19 points for France.
Russia claimed the bronze medal after defeating defending champions and Olympic gold medalist Serbia and Montenegro 3-1 (25-11, 24-26, 25-19, 25-23). Both teams were disappointed not to play in the final, and it showed, having missed an opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, the first Olympic Qualification tournament to be held in Japan in November.
"The victory is at least a small relief for our fans, but we are not satisfied," Russian coach Guennadi Chipouline said. "We wanted more than the bronze medal."
Poland took fifth place after blowing away the Netherlands 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-13) while hosts Germany finished seventh after defeating Spain 3-1 (28-26, 21-25, 25-19, 28-26).
The next Menís European Championship will be held in 2005 in Serbia & Montenegro and Italy.
Final Ranking :
1. ITA => Qualified for World Cup
2. FRA => Qualified for World Cup
Most Valuable Player: Andrea Sartoretti (ITA)
Best Scorer: Richard Schuil (NED)
Best Spiker: Piotr Gruszka (POL)
Best Blocker: Luigi Mastrangelo (ITA)
Best Server: Andrea Sartoretti (ITA)
Best Receiver: Samuele Papi (ITA)
Best Setter: Nikola Grbic (SCG)
Best Digger: Hubert Henno (FRA)