Nis, Serbia, June 12, 2009 - Nervous in their first match of the World League Intercontinental Round against the French Team, Serbia wasn't able to put up a fight against an eager and easy-playing France, who won the Pool B opener on Friday in straight sets 22-25, 17-25, 27-29 in a great atmosphere at the Nis Sports Hall "Cair."
The match was extremely important for both teams, who had played each other 32 times over the years.
The French Team, led by their famous head coach Philip Blain, started very aggressively with a strong service, good block and defense of their turf, and was soon winning by 4 points.
It was difficult for Serbia, but with two blocks from Borislav Petrovic, the "Blue Team" clawed back and the attacks of Dragan Stankovic and Milos Nikic brought the entire crowd to its feet. At 11-11, Blain had no other choice but to call the first TO. The third block from Petrovic, who was making his Serbian team debut, brought the home side to within one point of France, 16-15, by the second TTO.
The chess game began in earnest at that point, with the experienced French team finding a way through. Playing point for point, the advantage went from one team to the other. With the patience and precise counterattack from Emmanuel Ragondet, the "Tricolores" achieved a 2 point advantage at 21-23.
After Serbian service errors (first by Goran Maric, then by Stankovic) - and with Guillaume Samica having perfect control over the attack of Sasa Starovic - reserve player Nicolas Marechal scored on a counterattack to give the French the set, 22-25 in 30 minutes.
Serbia took a 3-point lead into the first TTO, but France played a solid defensive game and hit back well on the counterattack to take an invincible 19-12 lead. Although the home supporters tried hard to wake up Igor Kolakovic's team, Serbia played like silent onlookers. Not even four substitutions could stop the eager French team, who found an easy rhythm and swept the set 17-25 in 23 minutes.
In an exciting third set, France excelled in defense and patience to take a 4-0 lead. Led exceedingly well by Samica, France looked unstoppable, but with the score 15-11 and the Serbian team fighting back with a series of blocks at the net, the home fans rose to their feet, sensing a repeat of the 2008 World League could be in the making.
Blain called a TO in an attempt to break the concentration of the Serbian team, but it was to no avail as the hosts continued to lead at the second TTO.
The score remained close as the teams fought for each point. Boosted by their "extra" player--the home fans--Serbia launched wave after wave of attack and capitalized on their opponent's errors.
However, in the absence of a good setter on the Serbian team, there was no way to hold on to the 5-point lead. France narrowed the gap, prompting Kolakovic to call a TO, but the French nevertheless equalized at 23-23, followed by the first set point to Serbia.
The excellent Samica and Antonin had no intention of losing to the reinvigorated Serbians, and France erased four Serbian set balls before winning one of their own when Bojan Janic shot the ball out of bounds.
After 30 minutes, France finally put the game to bed, 27-29.