Milan, Italy, October 1, 2010 – France kept their hopes alive of qualifying for the FIVB Men’s World Championship third round with a comprehensive straight-sets win (25-19, 25-22, 25-23) over Japan in Milan on Friday. After Thursday’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Argentina, France will now need to wait for Saturday’s final Pool M match between Argentina and Japan to see which two teams advance to the next phase.
With both teams ranked 12th in the world, the win marked France’s 10th victory in 11 matches over Japan but the result didn’t mask the disappointment of Philippe Blain following the news that star spiker Antonin Rouzier, who was the tournament’s fourth Best Scorer prior to the match, has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury, according to the coach.
France’s best weapon was the block with nine in the match and despite Rouzier having to be carried from the court in the third set, he was Les Tricolores’ best scorer with 14 points. Japan’s best scorer so far, Kunihiro Shimizu with 64 points, added to his tally with the match high of 14 points.
France never relinquished an early first-set lead. Japan touched the net to give France a 6-3 lead before the first Technical Time Out (TTO) arrived with France ahead 8-5 thanks to Japan’s inconsistency at the service line. France continued to dominate with Rouzier and Nicolas Marechal, well-served by setter Pierre Pujol, both in the thick of scoring while Shimizu tried his best to keep Japan in the set. A Jusuke Ishijima ace narrowed the gap but France still led 16-11 at the second TTO. Japan sought inspiration from the likes of captain Kota Yamamura, the oldest and tallest in the Japanese lineup at 29 and 2.05m, but Rouzier’s attack was unbeatable as France wrapped up the first set 25-19 with Rouzier and Marechal already on six points each.
The second set started slowly, but at 2-2 two outstanding blocks by Gerald Hardy-Dessources gave France the lead by the first TTO at 8-5. Rouzier continued France’s momentum with a piercing ace and Japan coach Ueta Tatsuya was forced to call his own timeout at 11-6. The improvement was limited as France led 16-12 before the Japanese resurgence began. Shimizu at his powerful best coupled with some French errors reduced the gap to 16-15 before a Yuta Yoneyama spike and Shimizu ace gave Japan the lead for the first time in the match, 18-17. This was just the wake-up call France needed as captain Oliver Kieffer and veteran Stephane Antiga responded to give France the set ball before Marechal closed out the set.
With an early finish on the cards Japan were spurred into action in the third set, contesting more at the net and looking hungrier on the field of play. But with France ahead 6-4, Rouzier suffered a horrible injury, landing badly on his left ankle, before being carried from the court to be replaced by Romain Vadeleux. Japan seized the opportunity and took the lead at 14-12 and 16-14 with Shimizu and Yoneyama turning out to be the “spike-men” for their team, supported by inspiration off the bench. A strong Marechal block kept France in the contest and at 19-19 it was anyone’s set, but France timed their run to perfection. With Japan missing their combination on the spike to sum up their match, Hardy-Dessources summed up France’s by firing in an ace to wrap up the match.