World League preview – France
Lausanne, Switzerland, March 16, 2016 – The FIVB Volleyball World League will again provide thrilling action for volleyball fans around the globe when 12 teams go out to win the FIVB’s largest annual volleyball prize.
As the start of the tournament draws ever nearer FIVB.com will be previewing the teams and who to keep an eye out for as the leading volleyball sides aim to reach the Group 1 Finals in Kraków, Poland over the weekend of July 13-17.
France – defending their crown
For two weeks in 2015 France took their biggest ever steps as a volleyball team, by winning the World League Group 2 title and then adding the Group 1 crown a week later to stand tall atop the volleyball world.
France claimed their first ever title in the competition with a 17-1 record, only losing to the United States in the Final Round.
It was a remarkable fortnight of success for Laurent Tillie’s side and only the second time that Les Bleus have finished on a World League podium having won silver in 2006. However, it was confirmation of the potential they had shown when they finished fourth at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship Poland 2014.
They began by defeating hosts Bulgaria 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-21) to win the Group 2 title in Varna and in doing so booked their place in the Group 1 Finals at the Maracanazinho Arena in Rio de Janeiro, which will also host the volleyball competition at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
Confidence was certainly flowing through the team when they started their Group 1 campaign; they ignored the script to defeat hosts Brazil 3-1 (27-29, 25-21, 31-29, 25-19) in impressive fashion with Antonin Rouzier leading the scoring with 25 points and Earvin Ngapeth weighing in with a further 21.
The 2014 winners USA were a tougher prospect and Tillie’s team finished on the end of a 3-1 (21-25, 22-25, 26-24, 20-25) reverse, though they recovered to edge Poland in the semifinals, 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 22-25, 17-15).
Rouzier again led the way for France with another 25-point haul, while Ngapeth hit the winning point to stop Poland from completing a remarkable turnaround.
France and Serbia line up at the 2015 World League Finals
Victory set up a final against Serbia, who like France were aiming for a first World League title. France weren’t to be denied though and were on red-hot form to defeat their European rivals 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-23).
France’s success ensured front-page headlines in French newspapers and even a congratulatory message from President of the Republic, Francois Hollande. To round off a great year the team rode the tide of emotion all the way to the CEV European Championship in Bulgaria where they defeated Slovenia 3-0 (25-19, 29-27, 29-27).
At the start of 2016 they narrowly missed out on qualifying for Rio 2016 when they lost to defending Olympic champions Russia in the European Olympic Qualifier. It means they will now take part in the World Olympic Qualifier in Japan in May aiming to wrap up Olympic qualifying well in time for the defence of their World League title.
Man to watch – Benjamin Toniutti
Team captain Benjamin Toniutti is the man who makes France tick. His subtle play and delicate touches set up numerous attacks that the likes of Rouzier, Ngapeth and Kevin La Roux are only too happy to capitalise on.
As a result, the 26-year-old was voted the 2015 World League’s best setter, a deserved award for a player who plays his club volleyball for ZAKSA Kedzierzyn-Kozle in the Polish league.
Toniutti hails from Mulhouse, close to the Swiss border and he was part of a France team that enjoyed success at age-grade level; he helped the France U19 team to bronze at the FIVB U19 World Championship and gold at the European Championship, something he also achieved with the U21 team.
He has won four French league titles with Arago de Sete and one German title with Friedrichshafen.