A month and six days after its Olympic coronation, the French volleyball team suddenly fell from its pedestal, drastically beaten three sets to zero Monday, September 13 by the Czech Republic in Ostrava, in the round of 16 of the championship of ‘ Europe. While they were the favorites of the competition after having achieved a faultless during the qualifying phases, dropping only one set against Germany, the Blues, who were playing in white tonight, stammered their volley.
They have been dominated both physically and tactically by cheeky Czechs of success and aggression. The French players, who chained their 31e official game since May 31, seemed dull, short of ideas, facing opponents with a simple but effective game plan: hitting hard in the center of the field.
Caught by the throat at the start of the match by Czechs galvanized at home by the 4,000 spectators present in the Ostrava Arena, a room yet only half filled due to a pandemic, the Habs seemed paralyzed. Far from their level of August in Tokyo, they multiplied the faults in the service (7 in the second set). The harsh neon light seemed to bother the French servers more than the Czechs, used to an enclosure usually reserved for ice hockey matches.
“We got rolled over”
“We did not succeed in serving”, explained soberly after the meeting Benjamin Toniutti, the veteran libero of the France team, who recognized the superiority of his evening opponent. “They played very well, better than us. They deserve their victory “, he summed up. Too many faults, feverish receptions, soaring defensive strength, usually their strong point: without these volleyball fundamentals, it was impossible for the French to resurface in a one-sided match.
Throughout the three sets, the Czech strikers Jan Galabov and Jan Hadrava made their power speak against the French defensive block. Powerless, without a clear game plan despite the many timeouts requested by their coach, the Blues relied on their individual talents. Like Earvin Ngapeth, the star of the France team, or passer Antoine Brizard, one of the revelations of the Games, they missed out on their match.
“We got rolled over”, released after the match Jean Patry, one of the rare French satisfactions with the central Barthélémy Chinenyeze. The Czechs shone by what usually makes the strength of the French, the speed of the transitions between defense and attack. But they were especially stronger mentally, eager to afford the scalp of Olympic champions.
Despite a good reaction at the end of the match and eight match points saved (including one thanks to the video challenge), the French team therefore lost in three sets: 22-25, 19-25 and 32-34. A scenario reminiscent of Euro 2017, when the same Czech Republic had released the Blues at the same stage of the competition. Six players from the current Czech team were on the court four years ago.
Bitter failure for “Bernardinho”
This French disillusionment is also a bitter failure for the new coach, the Brazilian Bernardo Rocha de Rezende, who replaced Laurent Tillie a few days after the Olympic final won on August 7 in Tokyo. He may have multiplied the timeouts, “Bernardinho” was not able to influence the course of the game. In total, the French committed 26 faults, including 14 in service, while the Czechs achieved 59% of their attacks.
It is, on the other hand, a great consecration for Jiri Novak, the coach of the Czech Republic since May 2020, a true legend of European volleyball, eight times winner of the French championship in thirteen seasons with the Paris Volley team over the years. 2000, a record he shares with Laurent Tillie.
In the next round, the men in the blue jersey will face Slovenia on Wednesday, winner of Croatia three sets to one, for a place in the semi-finals. The “final four” of the European Championship will take place on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 September in Katowice, Poland, a stronghold of volleyball in Europe.