Belgium's win over France was its biggest since joining the World League in 2014
Sydney, Australia, June 19, 2016 - Belgium has stunned France 3-2 (13-25, 26-24, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12) in an epic match which saw the French team stripped of 10 points because of a team rotation error that turned the game on its head.
The match comes two ears after both team's last meeting in the World League. Back in 2014 France won in straight sets. Belgian captain Sam Deroo was outstanding for the victors, in a match that ebbed and flowed and oozed drama throughout. France looked much more relaxed after giving their entire starting line-up the night off on Saturday. France had won 21 of it’s last 22 matches. Belgium made it 21 of 23.
Antonin Rouzier and Nicolas Marechal in particular looked full of venom, their power game leaving Belgium floundering, and with captain Benjamin Toniutti providing his usual good touch, Belgium found it hard to get any rhythm.
But the second set was a complete turnaround, with Gert Van Walle and Tomas Rousseaux leading their team to a big set lead, and with captain Sam Deroo providing a steady hand when needed. Rouzier was continuing to work hard for France, but at 19-13 the set looked over for the previously unconquered French. Coach Laurent Tillie introduced Trevor Clevenot, the star of their win over Australia 24 hours earlier, into the match, and his blocking and spiking helped drag France back to level the scores at 22-all. 24 hours earlier Belgium had thrown away a commanding second set lead to lose to Italy, but despite some nervous moments, on this occasion they were able to hold their nerve.
France took the early ascendancy in the third set, and from there built a lead Belgium found difficult to close. Van Walle was continuing to work hard for the Belgians, but France, with Rouzier, Tillie and Clevenot firing, had too many options.
Belgium won the fourth set, but not before one of the most extraordinary events in modern volleyball. Leading 10-8, it was discovered France had been playing the entire set out of rotation, so they were stripped of all their points, giving Belgium an 8-0 lead. Seemingly out of the set, France slowly clawed back to 11-13 and Belgium started to look worried. But captain Deroo and Van Walle are both experienced campaigners, and they managed to get their team out to a comfortable lead again.
Having won the unwinnable set, or in France’s case, lost the un-losable set, the match headed to a fifth set. Belgium had the smell of victory in their nostrils, and with Deroo inspiring from all over the court, it was the minnows who took early control.