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Patry leads France to victory over Russia in Men's VNL opening day highlight

 
Jean Patry scored 16 points to lead France to victory against reigning champions Russia
Novi Sad, Serbia, May 31, 2019 - France wiped the slate clean as last year's runners-up defeated title-holders Russia 3-1 (25-19, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23) on the opening day of the 2019 men's FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

Jean Patry scored 16 points to lead his team to victory in one of the much-awaited highlights of the first day of this year's tournament. Egor Kliuka scored 20 points for the losing side, with Victor Poletaev and Dmitry Volkov also in double digits for Russia and Trevor Clevenot on 10 points for France.

France coach Laurent Tillie's men kept Russia at bay in the first set opening up a small lead at 7-5 and holding on to it thanks in part to libero Jenia Grebennikov's great work in defence, who was able to keep the ball in play in seemingly desperate situations. France built up a six-point lead at 19-13, before claiming the set at 25-19.

Under the leadership of their new coach Tuomas Sammelvuo, the defending champions returned to the court determined to slow the French team's progress. Again France opened up a two-point advantage at 8-6, however. The Russians managed to work their way back into the set with both teams level at 19-19 before France again took the lead with Patry winning points on a powerful spike and later on a monster block to take the set comfortably at 25-22.



Down by two sets, it looked unlikely that the reigning champions would work their way back into the match. Again France opened up an early lead to maintain a cushion of one or two points. The Russians equalized at 9-9, however, and moved ahead in the third set for the first time at 11-10 adding a Kliuka ace.

France coach Tillie called a timeout but the Russians held on to their lead building to a three-point advantage at 15-12. Kliuka continued to rack up the points giving his team the belief they needed to take the match into a fourth set at 25-20.

Russia were clearly on the comeback trail at the beginning of the fourth frame but France remained in contention with Barthelemy Chinenyeze levelling scores at 5-5 and an Antoine Brizard block giving the French a first lead in the set at 7-6. The two teams remained level until 13-13. A great spike by Volkov then gave Russia a 1-point lead before coach Tillie again called a timeout to remind his team to keep things simple.

France led at 16-15 before opening up a decisive three-point lead at 19-16 with an unstoppable Nicolas Le Goff spike getting his team to 20 points first. Patry was again on target to take France to within four points of victory at 21-17 and Clevenot found a good serve to open up the gap to five points. Russia worked their way back to 22-23 but France found match point on a good defence by Grebennikov and soon claimed victory at 25-23 to make their mark on the start of the 2019 VNL. 

France libero Jenia Grebennikov (2) leads celebrations as France claim a point against Russia on Friday.

Today's match was a repeat of the 2018 Volleyball Nations League final which Russia won against hosts France 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-23) at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille. Earlier in the same tournament, France had beaten Russia 3-0 in the preliminary round.

France had won nine of their previous 24 matches against Russia at world level major tournaments going into tonight's match, losing 15 (including Soviet Union and Commonwealth of Independent States). Stephen Boyer (75 points) and Earvin N'Gapeth (68) were the top scorers of the final round in last year's VNL competition, while Maxim Mikhaylov led Russia in the final round with a total of 63.

The 2019 VNL continues tomorrow with action across four pools in the men's competition in Jiangmen, China (Pool 1), Mendoza, Argentina (Pool 2), Katowice, Poland (Pool 3) and Novi Sad, Serbia (Pool 4). Tune in to Volleyball TV to watch all the action live.

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