France continue display of fine form to secure Pool B first place
2016 European Olympic Qualification - Men
Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2016. France continued their show at the men’s European Olympic Qualifier in Berlin with a third consecutive win – this time over Bulgaria – to secure first place in Pool B (3-0; 25-19, 25-20, 25-15). They also got another boost of confidence for the matches coming up later this weekend where a much coveted ticket to Rio will be at stake. Bulgaria’s dream of competing at the Olympics, on the other hand, vanished after the first set and after finishing fourth at London 2012, the Lions will not be among the 12 competing at Rio de Janeiro later this summer.
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France vs. Bulgaria 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-15)
The first set of this match was going to determine France’s and especially Bulgaria’s fate in the competition. Indeed the Lions needed a 3-0 win over the European champions to secure their progression to the semis and therefore they could not afford any mistakes right from the early stages of the opening set. France, on the other hand, needed to take two sets from this match to claim first place in Pool B.
The match was a remake of a 2015 EuroVolley semi-final which France had won at the tie-break but the circumstances were today a lot different. Being sidelined by many injuries Bulgaria have not been able to repeat the level of performance shown before their home fans less than three months ago. France have become known for their spectacular way of playing and the trend continued in the first set of the match with Bulgaria, resulting in a comfortable 16-11 lead at the second technical time-out. The Lions put on a good fight to stay alive in the competition but their Olympic dream was shattered following France’s 25-19 set win sealed by a Nicolas Le Goff attack through the middle.
Plamen Konstantinov changed a few players in his starting six for the second set but France’s coach Laurent Tillie did the same with only libero Jénia Grebennikov staying on from set one. This had an immediate impact on his team’s performance with Les Bleus trailing early on but regrouping and stabilising their game to claim a 25-20 win and this way secure their first place in the pool.
France’s supremacy in the game was further cemented in the third set where Tillie continued to rely on his substitutes who were definitely up to the task and delivered a very solid performance. The European champions led from start to end until France’s third win in the pool was sealed by a Bulgarian service error (25-15).
Bulgaria captain Vladimir Nikolov: “That was my last game with the national team which was important for me. I gave 16 years of my life for the team and the story is over. It was not always the plan. I got one year extra bonus because my plan was to quit after the 2012 Olympics. Then the coach asked me to help the team and I got this chance to be here. I should thank him. We have players which are good enough to replace me. Tsvetan Sokolov will be back soon and we have others who can perform extremely well. It won’t be an issue.”
Bulgaria outside spiker Metodi Ananiev said: “It was not easy to find a boost of motivation for this match. Of course we still stood a chance, but realistically you cannot imagine you will be able to beat France 3-0, especially when they are in such good shape. We went out and played just for fun, tried to do the best we could but ended up losing in three sets.”
France setter Benjamin Toniutti said: “It was important for the team and the coach to see that even our substitutes are strong and very competitive, so we know can rely on them as well. We did our job, our mission is accomplished as we won three matches in a row. Germany and Poland will decide who our opponent will be in the semis. Germany and Poland are quite similar: they both have a very athletic opposite and are good at blocking.”