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17/10/2015 22:36
France silence 12,500-strong crowd to challenge Slovenia for EuroVolley crown
2015 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Men

Sofia, Bulgaria, October 17, 2015. Similarly to what had happened earlier in the afternoon to Italy, the other co-host of the 2015 men’s EuroVolley, Bulgaria also missed out on a spot in the gold medal match of the tournament that will be reaching its climax on Sunday at Arena Armeec in Sofia. The second semi-final had everything you can ask from a Volleyball match at this level: a 12,500-strong amazing home crowd, a 2:0 lead for the home team and an incredible comeback by ‘Les Bleus’. After topping the charts of this year’s FIVB Volleyball World League, France will now vie for their first European title in history following their tie-break win over the Lions on Saturday night (18-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-21, 15-12).

Something historic will happen on the final day of the men’s EuroVolley as both France and their opponent Slovenia – the real sensation of the competition – have never stood on top of the podium since the competition was established back in 1948. Slovenia have already secured their first European Championship medal ever whilst France currently have four silver medals and two bronze on their resume.

Click here for a live and comprehensive gallery of the 2015 men’s EuroVolley final weekend

Bulgaria vs. France 2:3 (25-18, 25-22, 24-26, 21-25, 12-15)

On Saturday night Arena Armeec was once again fully packed with about 12,500 fans in attendance for the much anticipated semi-final between hosts Bulgaria and the gold medal winners from the 2015 FIVB Volleyball World League, France. The Lions did not disappoint the home crowd in Bulgaria’s capital recording a terrific start (8:3) and controlling the match also through to the second technical time-out (16:10). France’s star players Earvin Ngapeth and Antonin Rouzier did not seem quite able to stand the impetuous start of the Lions who of course – as it already happened in every single one of their 2015 EuroVolley matches – seemed to fly on the wings of enthusiasm, carried by their marvellous and raucous fans. Bulgaria displayed a real team effort as setter Georgi Bratoev always found the right timing and chemistry with the trio including team captain Vladimir Nikolov, Todor Aleksiev and Nikolay Penchev (20:13) and playing close to perfection, the hosts brought the first set to an end at 25-18.

France bounced back vigorously right from the early stages of the second set, performing with a lot more consistency and having also probably adjusted to the ‘hot’ atmosphere they had to cope with at Arena Armeec. ‘Les Bleus’ enjoyed a margin of four at the second technical time-out (16:12) but the Lions stamped a 6:2 run to level the score before Todor Aleksiev’s block propelled Bulgaria’s first lead at 19:18. Arena Armeec was just ‘boiling’ at this stage and the celebrations on the stands became even louder after Ngapeth spiked off the bounds. A block on Kevin Le Roux increased Bulgaria’s lead to 21:18 – at this point their positive series stood at nine points versus only two for their opponent – before home hero Nikolov piled up three set balls for the Lions at 24:21. It was the charismatic Bulgarian captain who brought the second set to a happy end for the hosts at 25-22.

The third set was already a make-or-break bout for France and ‘Les Bleus’ performed well showing their determination to stay alive in the game. They were off to a solid start but Bulgaria stormed back to make it 10 all and prompt a time-out by Laurent Tillie. The fans at Arena Armeec never stopped supporting their heroes as the Lions seemed determined to finish it off as quickly as possible. The 2015 World League champions did not agree with this plan and restored their leadership in the set (19:16) but Bulgaria won a point by means of the video challenge to cut their deficit down to one point at 19:18. A massive block moved the score to 23 all, and Bulgaria were only two little steps away from making the EuroVolley final. Rouzier, however, added one more point to his personal tally to secure France’s first set ball, Viktor Yosifov restored the balance at 24:24, before Ngapeth closed it out at 26-24 after a poor Bulgarian reception.

The fourth set followed the same plot, both on and off the court. France set the pace of the game from its onset but Bulgaria did not fall too much behind, always carried by the amazing crowd of Arena Armeec. The spectators went just crazy after Bulgaria finally closed in at 16 all on a triple block; Rouzier and Ngapeth continued to spearhead France’s offensive play but Bulgaria’s block was always well positioned, with Nikolov, Aleksiev and Yosifov doing a superb job in this fundamental (20:20). However, the final section of the set was ruled by Earvin Ngapeth whose contribution was instrumental to the 25-21 set win that called for the tie-break.

Bulgaria did not tremble and opened the decider with a promising 4-1 run but France turned the tide (8:5) at the side switch. The tension was in the air as the match approached its final stages, and Aleksiev kept Bulgaria’s hopes alive closing in at 9:8 for ‘Les Bleus’. Rouzier sent the ball off the bounds to trigger the Bulgarian party as the score was levelled at 9 all; the drama continued all the way through to the end until 12,500 fans were silenced following Bulgaria’s error that got the party started in the French camp…

Antonin Rouzier scored 30 points for France on their way to this come-from-behind victory whilst Todor Aleksiev paced Bulgaria with 21.

France’s opposite Antonin Rouzier said after the match: “Bulgaria have a very strong team and they performed really well. However, we were mentally extremely strong tonight, and we continued to push as much as we could every time we were trailing in the score knowing we could come back and turn the tide. I am of course delighted with this victory, which I believe we deserved. Tomorrow we play Slovenia, they have been just sensational so far but we have set our sight on gold and nothing else than that.”

Laurent Tillie, head coach of France: “I think we stabilised the reception by relieving Ngapeth from this duty and after that we simply had more faith that we would win. I do not know how we managed, because it was very difficult. Bulgaria played very well in the first two sets and we needed to adapt. At the end we were serving better too.”

Vladimir Nikolov, captain of Bulgaria: “We played very well, but in the end, unfortunately, I could not spike well two balls that I should have. I would like to apologise to all the fans for not making the final. It was because of me. It was my job on the court to spike those balls, not anybody else’s. Out of the two balls in zone 4 I should have succeeded at least once. I think we will be ready for tomorrow’s match, but we will play against a very strong team, which has already qualified for the Olympics. I strongly hope that with the support of these fans we will succeed. I have the strength for one more match.”

Plamen Konstantinov, head coach of Bulgaria: “We fought and gave our best.  In a game like that, the opponent deserves the credit for coming back into the match. Maybe we should be sorry for the third set, when we had control, but in the end lost concentration. Antonin Rouzier had a terrific performance, which is probably what made the difference. We have to find a way to regain our concentration for the bronze medal match tomorrow. It will be difficult after a semi-final like this, which will remain forever in our memory. This audience gave us the strength to reach the final four and to play as equals against what is probably the best playing team in the world right now.”

For more information on the 2015 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Men visit or click here. In social media, please use the competition’s official hashtag #EuroVolleyM.

News nr. 4 of 179
18/10/2015 20:03:00
Italy upset Bulgarian co-hosts, secure thirteenth EuroVolley medal
17/10/2015 19:16:00
Slovenia does it again! Italy is beaten, Giani’s boys go for European gold!

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