Did the French volleyball team, which faces Slovenia on Saturday September 16 for the bronze medal, succeed in its Euro? Difficult to answer this question because if the initial objective – the last four – was achieved, the correction inflicted by the Italians on the French in the semi-finals raises questions about their real level ten months before “their” Olympic Games .
In one year, the gap between the Squadra Azzurra and the Tokyo Olympic champions has widened. At the last World Cup, in September 2022, the Nazionale had to battle five sets in the quarter-finals to get rid of the France team. Thursday, in the excited atmosphere of the Rome Sports Palace, the Italians dominated the French in all areas of the game. They won in three sets (25-21, 25-19, 25-23).
A heavy defeat which tarnishes their record in this competition, which nevertheless remains positive. “The Blues remain a team feared by their opponents. This is important in the run-up to the Olympic Games. In this respect, the contract is fulfilled,” said former international Stéphane Faure (350 caps).
The results of the group stage were satisfactory with 4 victories (Turkey, Portugal, Israel, Greece) for one defeat (Romania), which allowed France to finish at the top of its group. The clear success in the round of 16 against Bulgaria in Varna, then the revenge taken in three straight sets against Romania in the quarter-finals showed that this surprise failure against the 24th nation in the world was only an accident.
Irregularity in service
An accident which, however, showed that the French team remained brittle on serve, one of the keys to the game. "This is its main weak point, even if it has shown in the past that it is capable of raising his level of play in this area in major events,” continues Stéphane Faure.
After committing 24 faults during their first match against the Romanians, the Blues corrected their situation (15 faults), but this irregularity, already observed during the 2022 World Cup, is costly at the highest level. In the semi-finals, France committed 16 service errors, compared to 13 for Italy. A small gap in appearance, but the Italians were much better tactically, varying more and not hesitating to serve short to avoid "pipes" (attacks behind the 3 meter line).
Another observation, if the French workforce is one of the richest in the world (along with Poland), the physical problems of several of its executives have weighed on the team's performance. Most French internationals play in the best European clubs, in Italy or Poland. These clubs go far in European competitions, particularly in the Champions League, which increases the risk of physical problems at the end of the season.
Regular starters in the receiver-attacker positions, Trévor Clévenot and Kévin Tillie arrived slightly injured at the Euro, leading to the tenure of Thimothée Carle. Despite his little experience in blue, the Berlin Recycling Volleys player gave full satisfaction in attack (top scorer of the Blues), but his shortcomings in reception were costly against Italy.
As for Earvin Ngapeth (32), who now plays in Ankara, Turkey, he started the Euro in poor form after being deprived of competition for four months due to an injury to his right thigh. Against Italy, however, the receiver-attacker showed that he remained an essential leader in key moments.
In the semi-finals, France also showed worrying limits in defense, its usual strong point. “At the end of the first set, the quality of our receptions dropped, which prevented our passer from developing our game,” analyzed Andrea Giani, the Italian coach of the France team, on Thursday.
A telling sign of the debacle of the French defense, the libero Jenia Grebennikov, metronome of the French game, did not have her usual performance. As for the passer Antoine Brizard, he suffered from the comparison with his counterpart Simone Giannelli, author of a “fortissimo” match. Other custodians of the French team's play, the sharp Jean Patry and Stephen Boyer appeared without solution against the Italian defense block, although they had been impeccable until then.
Will the defeat against Italy leave its mark on the minds of French volleyball players? “Winning the bronze medal would prevent doubt from setting in,” replies Stéphane Faure. “We had a lot of physical problems this summer, it wasn't easy but we got this far and we still have a chance to play for a medal which is super important,” insisted Earvin Ngapeth on Thursday at the microphone of L' TV team. If successful, France would win its first medal at the Euro since its victory in the final in 2015 against… Slovenia. Thanks to the quality of its bench, the Blues start as slight favorites in this meeting.
Winner of the Slovenes on Thursday, Poland will face Italy in the final on Saturday at 9 p.m. Reigning world and European champions, the Italians will try to win a third major trophy in a row.