Reigning Olympic champions France followed up on their Tokyo 2020 title last year with a Volleyball Nations League crown this year. In a thrilling five-set final, they claimed a 3-2 (25-16, 25-19, 15-25, 21-25, 15-10) victory over the United States to snatch their first gold and an overall third medal in the history of the competition. French star Earvin Ngapeth also backed up his Most Valuable Player award from the Japanese capital with another one at the VNL Finals in Ankara. For both silver medallists USA and bronze medallists Poland, it was also a third VNL podium.
Year in Review: France back up Olympic gold with VNL title
Ngapeth leads the team in a spectacular final against USA and claims the MVP award
Published 09:00, 21 Dec 2022
The men’s VNL 2022 took place from June 7 through July 24 under a new competition formula, with each of the 16 participating teams playing 12 matches over three competition weeks in the Preliminary Phase, and eight of them advancing to the VNL Finals in Bologna.
After the first week of matches held in Brasilia and Ottawa, USA remained the only unbeaten team in the league, coming out of the event in the Brazilian capital with a perfect record of four wins, including a memorable five-set battle with Japan and a 3-1 victory over Brazil. In the biggest upset of the week, the Brazilians suffered a shutout at the hands of China.
France gained speed with four wins at the Week 2 tournament in Quezon City. They dropped only a set in the Philippines. Meanwhile in Sofia, Poland also mastered four victories, while the Americans lost some ground by stumbling twice in the Bulgarian capital, at the hands of both the world champions and Iran.
European champions Italy excelled in the third competition week. Despite being sure of a spot in the Finals as the tournament hosts, they pushed to the max to prove that they belonged there on sporting merit too. The Italians were merciless in their four matches in Gdansk and took the top of the final Preliminary Phase standings on a 10-2 win-loss record. Despite suffering a five-set upset at the hands of Iran at the start of their home tournament, the Poles sprinted to the finish line with three back-to-back victories to take second place, behind Italy only on set ratio.
At the same time in Osaka, USA got back on the winning track to add four victories, including a tie-breaker success against France, towards a final 10-2 record, which put them in third place, four points below Italy and Poland. Also upset by Argentina in Japan, the French came fourth. Japan, Brazil, Iran and the Netherlands took the next four places in the table, in that order, to book their berths in the Finals.
Bottom-placed Australia lost their spot in the VNL. They will be replaced by Cuba, who won the men’s Volleyball Challenger Cup 2022.
In the Finals in Bologna, France put on a very solid performance in their first eight sets, shutting out Japan in the quarterfinals and Italy in the semis, and taking the first two sets of the final against the United States. The Americans, however, battled back in the next two to level the match. Led by Ngapeth, however, the French were again merciless in the tie-breaker to celebrate a historic success.
“We enjoy being together on the court so much. I think you can see that... We are super close outside the court and that’s the key. When we start playing with this energy and this chemistry, it’s hard to stop us.” Antoine Brizard, setter of France, VNL 2022 gold medallist
USA had reached the final after victories over Brazil and Poland. The Poles took the bronze with an emphatic sweep of Italy in the match for third place, which came after another five-set saga against Iran, this time successful, in the quarterfinals.
31-year-old Earvin Ngapeth, who was instrumental to France’s victory in the final with the match high of 22 points, was honoured as the Most Valuable Player. The 1.94m-tall outside was France’s best scorer in the Preliminary Phase of the competition too. His overall tally in VNL 2022 totalled 174 points. He was also among the seven players who were selected for the VNL 2022 Dream Team:
The Dutch team failed to make it past the quarterfinals, but their phenomenal opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz was by far the best scorer of the competition on a total of 263 points. His tally included 30 aces, just one short of the VNL’s best server Yuji Nishida of Japan, whose team also reached the quarterfinals.