Viva la France!
France, a team that had never gotten out of pool play in its four previous Olympics, a team that in these Tokyo Games finished 2-3 in its pool and finished fourth to barely break that streak, and whose coach announced his retirement before the championship match, won the men’s volleyball gold medal on Saturday.
Le Bleus beat ROC, the team from Russia, 25-23, 25-17, 21-25, 21-25, 15-12, in one of the most exciting, well-played matches of the Olympics. Up 13-12 in the fifth set, France setter Antoine Brizard got his only kill, a stunning left-handed attack on two, and then ROC hit out of bounds.
After a token challenge for a non-existent net violation, the celebration was on.
Action continues in Ariake Arena on Sunday as the USA women go for the program’s first Olympic gold when they play Brazil. Korea plays Serbia for the bronze medal.
Earvin Ngapeth led France with 21 kills, two blocks, three aces, and six digs. Jean Patry had 12 kills, a block, two aces, and two digs. Trevor Clevenot had 10 kills, a block, and five digs. Brizard, who was unsuccessful in his only other attack, had four aces, three digs, and 46 assists. Jenia Grebennikov had 14 digs and five sets.
“It’s incredible. It was 2-0 and then the Russian team played very well and made it very difficult for us because they spiked very hard,” Grebennikov said. “We are very happy to win the tie-break — this is crazy, it’s unbelievable.”
Egor Kliuka led ROC with 20 kills and five digs. Maxim Mikhaylov had 18 kills, three blocks, and 10 digs.
France opened pool play by getting swept by the USA. It swept Tunisia, lost in five to Argentina, beat ROC in four, and lost in five to Brazil. France beat Poland in four in the quarterfinals and then swept Argentina in the semifinals.
Argentina, in turn, upset Brazil, the 2016 Rio Olympics champion, in five in the earlier bronze-medal match.
Facundo Conte had 19 kills, a block, an ace, and a dig in the 25-23, 20-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-13 victory. Bruno Lima had 11 kills and Ezequiel Palacios had 10, three blocks, and eight digs.
“I’m extremely happy, very emotional and pleased,” said Palacios as he teared up, “to win this bronze. This bronze means much more to us than bronze. I never, ever imagined being a single point down and still pulling it off to win the championship. We knew we had to take advantage in order to win.”
Lucas Saatkamp led Brazil with 14 kills. It was the first time since 2000 that Brazil didn’t win a men’s volleyball medal.
Veteran Wallace De Souza had 12, four blocks, an ace, and four digs and said this was likely it for him on the national team.
“Yes, I think so,” De Souza said. “For me, I’ve been in the national team for 11 years. Everything I could give to the selection was given. And now it’s time to move forward.”