INFLUENTIAL NGAPETH HANDS FRANCE WINNING START
Rouen, France, May 25, 2018 – Earvin Ngapeth provided the spark for France as the hosts began their inaugural FIVB men’s Nations League campaign with a gritty 4-set victory (25-20, 24-26, 25-20, 25-17) over Asian powerhouses Iran.
This was an intriguing match-up between two high quality sides, but it was 2017 World League champions France who got the better of the Grand Champions Cup bronze medallists in front of their home crowd at the Kindarena Arena on the banks of the River Seine, although it was far from easy against determined opposition.
France had Ngapeth to thank for a commanding attacking performance which yielded 18 points, but their star man was also erratic with his serving uncharacteristically poor. Jean Patry (17 points) was also a menace, while setter Benjamin Toniutti and libero Jenia Grebennikov were as influential as ever. Barthelemy Chinenyeze, who scored 8 spikes from 8 attempts, and Nicola Le Goff (9 points) also produced some big moments. France often utilised a 3-man blocking technique to great effect, but it was their extra attacking flair that gave them the edge in a tight match.
Iran, who beat France for the first time last year on their way to a 3rd-placed finish at the Grand Champions Cup – their first-ever podium finish at world level – provided plenty of power and style, while their blocking mirrored the quality of the French. Amir Ghafour was a scoring machine with 18 points – all of them spikes – while Seyed Mohammad (9 points) and Milad Ebadipour (6 points) were also influential. Iran were terrific but were ultimately outgunned, although they’ll expect to beat Australia and Japan in their remaining Pool 1 games in Rouen.
The opening set began amidst much fanfair in Rouen and France – led by the powerful Le Goff – were soon in their stride and forged a healthy 8-4 by the first technical time out. Iran though are battle-hardened campaigners and, far from overawed, they closed to within 2 points thanks to Ghafour’s powerful spike. France though had an extra gear, Patry and Ngapeth added further spikes – the latter scoring after a brilliant piece of play from Grebennikov – to bring up set point and Patry rounded it out 25-20 to the delight of the home crowd.
France, who have won 2 of the last 3 World Leagues, were in the mood. With Iran trailing just 6-5 in the second set, Laurent Tillie’s men bridged the gap to 3 points at the first technical time out before a gorgeous placed shot from Thibaut Rossard extended the advantage further. Ngapeth, the 2017 World League MVP, then grabbed the set by the scruff of the net with some spectacular spikes with Iran struggling to contain him. Iran though fought back superbly with Ebadipour and Ghafour a constant threat as the visitors moved to within 1 point at 23-22, and the French inexplicably imploded as the Iranian blockers started getting some joy at the net. Seyed’s bravery gave Iran set point and he was involved again as Igor Kolakovic’s men snatched the set 26-24 and deservedly hauled themselves level.
The hosts were rattled and Iran’s Montenegrin coach Kolakovic was full of encouragement on the sidelines as Iran took an early 2-1 lead in the 3rd set. Coach Tillie threw on his son Kevin and he notched an important spike to hand France an 8-5 lead at the first technical time out. But a bad Ngapeth miss let Iran close to within 2 at 12-10, and a brilliant Farhad Salafzoon block gave Iran real belief at 19-18 behind. But the best sides often come good at the crucial times, and Chinenyeze came to the fore with a couple of polished spikes to get France over the line 25-20 as they regained control of the match.
France led Iran 3-1 in their head-to-head record at world-level events coming into this match, and they charged into an 8-4 lead at the first technical time out with the Iranians facing an uphill task to force a deciding set. But the visitors were proving extremely stubborn opposition and they clawed their way back again with Seyed ‘s outstanding block – he won 4 block points in the match – closing the gap to 2 points. At 14-12 to France, the set was in the balance but 6 successive points put Les Bleus 8 clear with Iran seemingly tiring. And the hosts closed out a pulsating match by taking the 4th set 25-17 to claim the maximum 3 points and get their Nations League campaign off to a flying start.
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