Lausanne, Switzerland, July 22, 2015 - When France's star smashers wrote a magnificent happy ending to their incredible volleyball fairy tale, even French president François Hollande congratulated them for their first FIVB Volleyball World League title.
MVP Earvin “Magic” Ngapeth's team really had achieved something special. Just one week after their victory in Intercontinental Group 2 in Bulgaria, France had also won the Final Six in Rio de Janeiro and pocketed $1 million in prize money. No other team had ever won both Groups 1 and 2 before, and France became the eighth nation to add their name to the list of competition winners after Brazil (9 titles), Italy (8), Russia (3), USA (2), Cuba, Netherlands, Poland (1 each).
On the way to the title, France claimed a sensational victory over the top team in the world ranking, hosts Brazil, at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanãzinho, which will also host the volleyball tournament at the Summer Olympics next year. World Champions Poland were defeated 3-2 in the semifinals before a commanding 3-0 victory over Serbia in the final.
“It was the match that brings a real fairy tale to an end. There really is a sense of satisfaction and pride for this team, for previous generations, for all the people who have this passion for volleyball, who did not dare talk about volleyball because there had never been a title,” said France coach Laurent Tillie.
France ahead of Serbia and reigning champions USA – an unexpected final result for the show of strength between the top volleyball teams in the world.
France earned their victory in this year's FIVB World League with an incredible record of 17 wins in 18 matches. Their only defeat came in the second preliminary match of the Final Six, which they lost 1-3 to reigning champions USA. But even here the team demonstrated their magnificent team spirit. At two sets down they made a great comeback in the third set, which they won to secure their place in the semifinals. Tillie: “It was necessary to use this match to bounce back, to understand what did not work, we managed to adjust. That’s the idea that we gave the team: To be in a continuous process of growing.”
The team were still celebrating on their return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on Sunday. “We arrived in Rio with less pressure than the other teams, because we were in Group 2. But we knew that we could win,” said captain Benjamin Toniutti: “But we are very happy, we trained so hard for two and a half months and now we return with this trophy for France. Words cannot describe this.”
The success was also the result of work done by head coach Tillie's support team, which did all it could to support the players.
“We thought about this at the start of the season, but there is a big difference between thinking about it and doing it!,” said Tillie. “We said that we finished fourth at the last World Championship. We wanted to show that this wasn't by chance. Last year, we had frustrating experiences like the semifinal loss against Brazil at the World Championships. We also lost the match for third place and we were defeated by Australia in the Final Four of Group 2 in the World League. But we have been able to use that frustration to turn it into motivation.”
Antonin Rouzier was France's outstanding scorer this season with 251 points, Benjamin Toniutti passed brilliantly as a setter, and Earvin Ngapeth brought a necessary level of unpredictability to the game. The latter two players also made it into this year's FIVB World League Dream Team. Earvin Ngapeth, whose parents named him after the famous basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson, received the MVP award. “Klima” Ngapeth, who is also a talented musician, was proud of his team and his home country.
And what's next for France's sensational team? First they have a slightly extended holiday. “Winning the World League means that the players have won an extra two days off, they are lucky! Instead of three weeks they have three weeks and two days!” said Tillie, laughing. “On a more serious note, there is a European Championship in October where we have to defend our winner of the World League status. We are pleased to have won, but we will try not to rest on our laurels. We also want to qualify for the Olympics and fight for the podium at the same venue in Rio.”