Poland manged to come back from being two sets down to claim their first victory in World League Finals in Kraków
Kraków, Poland, July 13, 2016 – Poland defeated France, last year’s winners of the World League, after a dramatic and thrilling tie-breaker 3-2 (21-25, 17-25, 25-17, 28-26, 15-12) with Dawid Konarski scoring a team-high 20 points.
The great scoring achievement of Antonin Rouzier (25 points) was not enough to prevail over the reigning world champions. On the Polish side the best performance, with 20 points to his name, was displayed by Konarski, who worthily replaced Bartosz Kurek in the line-up.
It was Poland's first World League victory over France since July 2007, when Poland triumphed 3-2 in Katowice. Historically France still hold the upper hand against Poland in the World League, having won eight and lost five against them.
Before the start of Final Six, Poland were confident about their preparation and they tried to show it from the beginning of their opening match. Coach Stephane Antiga’s players started the game with determination and calmly led 8-6. After the technical time-out France tied at 8, thanks to Earvin Ngapeth’s efforts and an ace from Benjamin Toniutti. Poland built a three-point lead, but France came back in the game and leveled the result at 20-all. Les Bleus put the pressure on the serve and the hosts were helpless – with Michał Kubiak blocked and Nicholas Marechal sending an ace to seal the first set success at 25-21.
France led by Rouzier (five points in the 1st set) managed to build a substantial advantage from the early stages of the second set. The 6-2 score for France forced coach Antiga to make substitutions. A short break helped Poland and they reduced the gap to two points at 7-5. The White-Red’s own mistakes and brilliant performance of skipper and setter Benjamin Toniutti resulted in a comfortable 14-8 lead for the guests. Polish defence could not find a solution for Rouzier’s forceful spikes and all their efforts backfired. Without any hesitation France won 25-17, ending the set with massive kill from the middle by Kevin Le Roux.
Poland used the 10-minute break between sets well and started confidently with a 7-2 lead into the third. Coach Laurent Tillie tried to stop the Polish momentum by taking a time-out, but his team could not manage to recover. The opposite Dawid Konarski took the responsibility in attack and motivated his teammates to step up their efforts too, so the fans were very pleased with 16-7 score at the second technical time-out. The hosts rised like a phoenix from the ashes and preserved the safe lead. Despite some troubles with atomic serves by Thibault Rossard, who substituted Rouzier, the Polish Eagles ended powerfully with Konarski’s spike from the right wing at 25-17.
If anybody in Tauron Arena counted on a calm next set and easy win for Poland would have been disappointed. France earned a three-point advantage at 7-4 and did not let their rivals spread their wings. Poland are not used to give up easily and kept chasing the score. They finally did tie the set at 17-17 thanks to Mateusz Bieniek, who was making a huge difference down the middle. Antiga’s team reborn and the fans grew even louder. In the tight ending Ngapeth showed what he could do, but Mateusz Mika was his equal – managing to keep Poland's one-point advantage. Nicolas Le Goff served outside the line and gave Poland a chance to win the set. They missed three set points until Mika, without fear, spiked twice in a row and Poland took the match to a tiebreaker at 28-26.
In the fifth set both teams traded points until Poland opened a 10-7 lead. France, however, refused to give up and tied the score at 10-10 with Ngapeth on fire. However, Poland's defence lead by middle blocker Karol Klos managed to contain the creativity of Ngapeth and Rouzier's power with crucial blocks at the crucial times to close the set and the match 15-12.