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FIVB World League 2006
 
Match Description
 
France secure first-ever place in the World League final
 

Montmeat and the libero Exiga of France celebrate

Bulgaria entered the first semi-final match with a team consisting of the two best spikers from the Final Rounds, Matey Kaziyski and Vladimir Nikolov. France were also well placed to fight it out, with Final Round top scorer Sebastien Ruette and the strong back row of libero Jean-Francois Exiga and captain Stephane Antiga, who shared a prolific defensive rate totalling 168 receptions, placing them second and third among the best receivers respectively.

France took the early lead thanks to a solid back court presence and some strong blocking. The French side played safe with their float serves to take a four-point advantage at the first technical break. Bulgaria started to draw clear as France spiked wide, but Antiga prevailed alone at the net against two opponents to keep France ahead. Two side-outs from France's Samica extended the team's lead to five points at the second technical time-out. Bulgaria drew to within one point after they started to make their serves work and France's counter-attacks flew past the line. Philippe Blain called a time-out to sort things out and Martin Stoev did the same one point later as France drew two points clear. A defiant block by France, followed by a swerving ace by Antiga forced a second time-out by Stoev with France needing only two points to take the set. France edged to set point as their attack bounced off the Bulgarian block to be retrieved by TV commentator and 1984 gold medallist Paul Sunderland. Bulgaria saved the first set point on a French service error but Oliver Kieffer spiked clear to take the first set 25-21.

In the second set, France drew level with two solid blocks by Samica and Kieffer, before Ruette joined in a third block to take his side ahead. France then responded to lead at the first technical time-out after Bulgaria had first gone up 3-0 in the opening of the set. Martin Stoev brought on the tournament's third-best scorer Matey Kaziyski at 9-6 to turn things around, but two sharp tip-overs from France kept them ahead before Samica served into the net. Philippe Blain called his first time-out of the set after the match's most exciting rally, in which even Sebastien Ruette slipping on the court did not cause the French defence to falter. France continued to hold the upper hand and an imaginative dummy on 21-19 followed by a Stephane Antiga ace forced Bulgaria's second time-out with France one point away from set point. Stephane Antiga missed a chance to clinch the set as his serve hit the net, but Bulgaria's reply did the same to give France the second set 25-20.

Neither team wanted to give anything away in the opening stages of the third set as both teams scrambled off the court in defence. France took the game's 15th point to lead at the first technical break. The teams remained locked in battle up to the second break, with neither taking the advantage until a block by France took them into the break two points clear. France extended the lead to three points at 21-18 when Martin Stoev called the first time-out of the set. France kept a slender lead as Bulgaria tried to force a fourth set, but a cross-court spike by Stephane Antiga gave him the serve for match point. France took the match on a block to win 25-21, 25-20, 25-20.