2018 FIVB MEN’S VOLLEYBALL NATIONS LEAGUE – FINAL SIX/POOL A
- June 27th-June 29th, 2018
- Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France | Stade Pierre-Mauroy (Capacity: 28,010)
- Time Zone: Central European Summer Time (UTC +02:00)
- World Rankings: #1 Brazil, #9 France, #11 Serbia
|Date||Time||Score||Set 1||Set 2||Set 3||Set 4||Set 5||Total||Report|
Despite having a bid to the Final Six locked in as the hosts of the final round, France gave a high-level effort in the preliminary stage and even earned the top overall mark. They’ll look to continue that into the Final Six, although everyone joining them wasn’t far behind in overall record.
Speaking of the nations joining them, Serbia and Brazil get drawn into the group with the top team who is also hosting based on the serpentine draft order of the pools. The #1 team is joined by #4 and #5, while #2, #3 and #6 all go into Pool B. Usually the #1 spot is automatically given to the tournament’s hosts, and if that team isn’t actually the best in the event it can make things a bit easier on 4 and 5. That’s not so much the case this time with France being the top team and being at home. Still, Serbia was just one win lower while Brazil has the worst record of the group – although they notched more points than the Serbians.
It’s no secret who the favorite in this pool will be, as France earned the top mark in the preliminary round and is now at home for however many matches they have left. Not to mention that the French side won matches with Serbia and Brazil in round-robin play – doing both in three-set sweeps.
Still, at this stage with the top six teams remaining it’s not crazy that any of the three nations could win the pool – that’s the whole point of narrowing this down to the top competition. All it takes is Brazil or Serbia to knock off France once, while of course the meeting between the two could be for the final semifinal bid if France lives up to the hype – since the top two teams in the pool advance to the semifinals with the winner facing Pool B #2 and the runner-up getting Pool B #1.
In trying to size up France, don’t pay much attention to their low World Ranking (compared to how good they are). They are the team who won the 2017 FIVB World League, actually downing Brazil in the championship match. They also defeated Serbia in five sets in the Final Six of that event, so they’ll be looking for a mix of deja vu. The French side can beat in any way possible, with dynamic attacking options, a strong block and an aggressive and effective serve. In their five set thriller with Brazil in the 2017 World League finals, Earvin Ngapeth was unstoppable and scored 29 points and had a strong pairing from youngster Stephen Boyer (18 points). Those two have starred again with plenty of other options leading the way.
Even though they have the worst mark from group play in this pool and are on the road, a case can still be made that Brazil could battle for the top spot. That’s because of their cache as the number one team in the world. Still, they aren’t up to full health with Ricardo Lucarelli, one of the best attackers in the world who notched 22 points in the World League final in 2017, recovering from injury. They’ll need to find more balance, but on the bright side have a go to star in Wallace De Souza and swept Serbia on the road earlier in the preliminary round behind their block and a more efficient outing.
It’ll be a challenge for Serbia to reverse their previous appearances against the teams in this pool, as they went 0-2 in matches and 0-6 in sets against France and Brazil. They were out-blocked 7-23 combined in the two matches too and had 29 more team errors, which neutralized the fact that they logged more kills than both opponents. If they can play within themselves and not be bothered by the road crowd as well as sure up their block, they can definitely pull off a victory to at least move into the semifinal round, but that will be quite the challenge.
Overall, the projected order of this group will likely be France, Brazil and Serbia. Again though, at this stage that could easily switch with Serbia downing Brazil or France being upended once. Regardless, the most likely scenario is that France goes 2-0 playing in front of their home crowd while Brazil and Serbia’s match pushes the winner to the semifinals.
STORIES/PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Brazil – Just like he was in the 2017 FIVB World League, Wallace De Souza has been dominant in this tournament and finished second in the preliminary stage in scoring (215 points). However, the Brazilians are still looking for more balance after one of the top attackers in the world, Ricardo Lucarelli, has missed all of the tournament in recovering from an injury. Isac Santos (111 points) has done a formidable job in trying to ease the loss and ranks 37th in scoring along with 7th in aces per set, but the South American side will need ever more from him and the supporting cast if they want to not just advance to the semifinals but win the group.
- France – The top team in the tournament thus far sports two of the top players as well in Earvin Ngapeth (115 points), who always steps up on the biggest stage and ranked 37th in pool matches in scoring, and Stephen Boyer (157 points), the young gun who slots at eighth among individuals in scoring thus far. Just because they have stars at the top though doesn’t mean they lack other options, as Kevin Le Roux (19th at 0.39 blocks per set) leads the block, Thibault Rossard (11th at 0.24 aces per set) adds to the serve where Ngapeth ranked first in the group stage to go with several others capable of heavily impacting a match.
- Serbia – The Serbians have all kinds of balance on their roster, which has led to their success thus far. In fact, they had an incredible five players rank in the top 34 for scoring during the preliminary stage, led by Drazen Luburic (14th at 151 points). Luburic also sits fourth in kill success %, while some of the others not just contribute offensively but help make Serbia multi-talented such as Srecko Lisinac, who comes in at eighth in blocks per set (0.47) and ninth in aces per set (0.25). Give plenty of credit to the setters too, Nikola Jovovic (second in assists per set at 8.35) and Ivan Kostic (21st in assists per set at 3.54), who have facilitated the spread-out play.