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03/01/2014 23:00
France and Belgium happy with good start in Pool L
2014 FIVB Volleyball World Championship - Men

Paris, France, January 3, 2014. It was more difficult than some expected but France opened the World Championships qualifier with a 3:1 victory (18-25, 25-23, 22-25, and 22-25) over Belarus in front of their crowd at Halle Carpentier in Paris. In the second game of the day in the French capital, Belgium shut out Spain in three straight sets (25-20, 25-19, and 25-21). France will face the Spaniards on Saturday, while Belgium will be looking for its second victory against Belarus, the two teams having met during last year’s European Championship pool phase.

In front of 2,320 fans, France won its first game of the tournament against Belarus. After a difficult first set (18-25), the team of head coach Victor Sidelnikov managed to fight back its way into the game and won the second set (25-23). However, France’s experience let them pull through 3-1. Siarhei Akulich emerged as the top scorer of the match with 17 points while Earvin Ngapeth and Julien Lyneel led France with 16 points each.  
France started strong this match, pulling away quickly in the first set. After taking the lead right after the go, they never let the visitors come back. However, the Belarusians, despite their inexperience, showed a great fighting spirit in the second set. Behind Siarhei Akulich’s 7 points, they managed to take away the set. The visitors continued to display some nice skills at the beginning of the third set, leading up to 8:5. However, the home side eventually found their rhythm back with Lyneel, Rouzier, and Ngapeth leading the charge for France. Still tied 22-22, the set finally went to France with a winning serve by Rouzier to conclude. The fourth set offered a similar scenario, with Belarus leading by four points (12-8), and the French players responding well to come back into the game and finish it off with a rare block from setter Benjamin Toniutti.  
Laurent Tillie, head coach of France: “It was difficult for us today. The first game in a tournament is always hard, so we are very happy with today’s result. They managed to make us feel the pressure, but in the end, we won which is the most important. Tomorrow against Spain, it should be even harder. They are more experienced, have a glorious past, and some very good players.”
Victor Sidelnikov, head coach of Belarus: “It was difficult for us today. We were not ready in the first set. This is new for us since this is our first participation in a World Championships qualifying tournament; and France is a great team. However, after the first set we got better and we were able to win one. I think this was a very good game for the spectators. Now we will relax and we will start thinking about the game with Belgium tomorrow.”

Later in the evening Belgium swept Spain in three straight sets (25-20, 25-19, and 25-21) in a very impressive fashion with 19 points from Bram Van Den Dries who finished the game as the top scorer. For the Spaniards, Israel Rodriguez Calderon led his team with 14 points.
Spain enjoyed a strong start in this match, leading 8:5, and still in front at 16:15. However, Muñoz Benitez’s side committed too many mistakes in critical situations, letting Belgium take the lead of the game by winning the first set (25-20). The second set saw the Belgians become more aggressive, winning 15 points on their attacks. Baeyens’ side led the whole set, grabbing hold of the game, and winning it 25-19. In the third set, Belgium seemed to be cruising to a three-set victory, holding as much as a six-point lead, until the Spaniards responded and tied the game in the set. However, Van Den Dries’ 10 points proved too much for Spain as the Belgians finally won the set 25-21 and the match in straight sets.
Dominique Baeyens, head coach of Belgium: “We had to win this game today. Spain is weaker than Belgium so we could not afford to lose this game. This kind of match is very dangerous in a tournament like this because you cannot lose a point or even a set. I am happy after this win even though we should have won the third set quicker after leading by six points. Tomorrow we will face Belarus, who was already in our pool at the European Championship. They showed against France that they play well.”
Fernando Muñoz Benitez, head coach of Spain: “We were not expecting to lose in three straight sets. We need to be more consistent in our performances. We started good, but we could not close some situations. We had many problems in our side-out. We will have to check this in order to improve for tomorrow. It will be very difficult against France, but we will try our best.”

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