Slovenia (SLO) vs. France (FRA) men - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #15919258

Slovenia secured their second Volleyball Nations League 2024 win in two matches played. On Thursday in Antalya, they upset reigning Olympic champions France in a four-set game and collected a precious 7.64 FIVB World Ranking points in the race towards this year’s Paris 2024 Olympic Games in France.

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With opposite Toncek Stern leading the way, Slovenia celebrated a 3-1 (25-18, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21) win and, at least temporarily, topped the current VNL standings on a 2-0 win-loss record and 5 points. The 7.64 ranking points changing hands from France to Slovenia caused the two teams to swap their positions in the World Ranking. Slovenia climbed two spots to number six, also overtaking Argentina, while France, who are already qualified for their home Olympics, dropped two spots down to number eight.

Stern shared the top scorer honours of the match with French star Earvin Ngapeth, MVP of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. They scored 18 points each. While Toncek’s tally included 16 kills in attack and two kill blocks, Ngapeth produced 13 spiking points, three stuffs and two aces. Slovenia’s outside hitters Klemen Cebulj, with 13 points, and Rok Bracko, with 12, were the only other players to reach the double digits in the match.

Slovenia (SLO) vs. France (FRA) men - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #15915934

Slovenia’s 20-year-old Rok Bracko showed a good performance against France

Despite the epic five-set saga they won against the Netherlands under 24 hours earlier, Slovenia were well in control of the first set, dominating at the net towards a 25-18 win. They built up an early five-point lead in the second set. France fought back to get to within one, but never quite managed to catch up and their opponents doubled their lead with a 25-22 win.

France stormed the third set on a 3-0 run, but Slovenia gradually wiped out the gap. The lead went back and forth and at 23-21 Slovenia’s way, it seemed that they were heading towards a straight-set victory. But the French thought otherwise. With Ngapeth on fire (eight points in the set, including three aces), they delivered four points in a row to take the set at 25-23 and stay in the match. After 8-8 in the fourth set, Slovenia took the lead for good. Their offence was spearheaded by Stern, who brought in the 24-21 match point, and Cebulj, who hammered the 25-21 match winner.

“It was a tough game for us. We had a difficult start, but at the end there was a fight,” commented France’s Theo Faure after the match. “We didn’t have the energy we needed to kill this game. We really want to win every time we go on the court, but it’s also a long competition. It’s just the beginning of the summer and we need to learn every time we can learn, in order to progress, but the objective is to win every time we can.”

“This win is very important, because after yesterday’s match, which was very tough, we stepped on the court with this energy and we were mentally strong. That’s important for the team spirit,” said Slovenia’s Klemen Cebulj. “We really enjoyed being on the court today and we enjoyed this victory. We just need to keep working like this and improve our game in this way.”

In their next matches, Slovenia will take on Canada on Saturday at 14:00 local time (11:00 UTC) and France will meet the United States on Friday at 17:00 (14:00).

The VNL competition day in Antalya will continue with Canada playing against Poland at 17:00 (14:00) and Türkiye entertaining the Netherlands at 20:00 (17:00). Thursday’s Pool 2 programme in Rio de Janeiro includes Cuba v Germany at 14:00 local time (17:00 UTC), Japan v Serbia at 17:30 (20:30) and Argentina v Brazil at 21:00 (00:00).

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