Russia rout France in European Men's Olympic qualification final
Olympic gold medallists Russia were down in the opening set but soon recovered to take a 3-1 (14-25, 25-16, 25-23, 25-21) triumph in the final showdown, putting an end to France’s winning streak in major international competitions. The Russian men’s team joined their female compatriots as the continental winners of this Olympic cycle.
France, on the other hand, join Poland on a trip to Japan where in June these teams will be hoping to secure their appearance at this year’s Olympics, thereby bringing Europe’s contingent up to four – Italy qualified last year by finishing runners-up at the FIVB World Cup in Japan.
Russian hitters put on a remarkable scoring effort as Yuriy Berezhko and Maxim Mikhaylov led all scorers with 18 points, and Alexander Markin added 17 markers. Russia outscored France, which obtained 17 points from Earvin Ngapeth, and a combined output of 23 points from Antonin Rouzier and Kevin Le Roux.
France had a flying start in the first set as they dynamically controlled the tempo throughout the set. Rouzier closed the set at 25-14 with a spectacular smash. Russia coach Vladimir Alekno utilised Berezhko and Markin to replace the usual outside spikers Sergey Tetyukhin and Egor Kliuka in the second set, and it brought magnificent change in their offence as the they took a commanding 25-16 set victory.
Both sides fought in the exciting race in the third set but Russia peaked when it counted most. France tried to catch up towards the end of the set and fended off two set balls before Berezhko slammed the door for Russia at 25-23. Russia went all-out in the fourth set as Markin and Berezhko led the assault. Ngapeth tried to spark his side’s offence but Russia still ruled in the end with Berezhko and Alexander Volkov scoring the final two points in the championship match 25-21.
“I would like to stress that this tournament was a lot more difficult and competitive than the European Championship three months ago,” Russia coach Vladimir Alekno said. “Of course I am very happy with the result and also for all players on the team who have worked hard towards this achievement.”
“We were a little bit surprised how it went,” France player Kévin Tillie said. “We struggled to keep the intensity and we crashed a little bit. We’re confident but we’re going to have to take match after match like this tournament. It will be tough in Japan.”
Meanwhile, Poland got back on the winning track as they edged hosts Germany 3-2 (20-25, 25-22, 16-25, 28-26, 16-14) to secure third place. Poland and Germany met for the second time in the tournament but the matches drew different results, as the world champions delivered when it counted most to outlast their rivals in difficult moments in the playoff for third.
It was a high-scoring game for both sides with Poland’s Bartosz Kurek and captain Michal Kubiak spearheading the offence of Poland with 22 points apiece, while Gyorgy Grozer and Christian Fromm leading German scorers with 23 and 21 points, respectively.
Thousands of Polish supporters gathered to cheer for their team but were stunned after Germany took the first set 25-20. Poland then responded with a 25-22 victory in the second set. The Germans took advantage of Poland’s inconsistency in the third frame to get the momentum back to their side 25-16, but Poland had a dramatic finish of 28-26 in the fourth set to stay in contention for the bronze.
Poland kept their focus in the deciding set even though German star Grozer continued to threaten them on offence. Finally, Mateusz Mika got them out of the scuffle as he scored the final two points in their 16-14 set and match victory.