Kraków, Poland, July 15, 2016 – France needed five sets to secure a 3-2 (25-20, 25-19, 24-26, 19-25, 15-12) victory over already qualified Serbia on Friday sending them to semifinals with Antonin Rouzier's contributing a match-high 22 points.
With the thoughts of their country in their minds after the terrible events that took place in Nice the evening before, a big part of Friday's success, which meant hosts Poland finished third in Pool J and are consequently eliminated, belonged to Rouzier but he was well supported by Earvin Ngapeth with 20 points also to his name. On the other side of the net the best performance was delivered by Uros Kovacevic and Srecko Lisinac, both with 17 points.
France had not beaten Serbia in three successive World League meetings since 2002 previous to last year's final, which they won in straight sets, and now they have won two in a row.
After a moment's silence in respect of the victims in Nice, Tomislav Dokic opened the score with an excellent pipe and Serbia kept going ahead with two points until the scores were tied at 8-8. France stayed vigilant and did not let their opponents spread their wings. After the second time-out, when Serbia led by one point, Nicholas Marechal entertained the tribunes with a series of powerful serves and Les Bleus edged ahead 22-16. Aleksa Brdjovic missed his chance on serve and France claimed the set 25-20.
The second set was slow to warm up but Lisinac took the weight of the attack on his shoulders and Serbia moved ahead at 15-13. Then Ngapeth reminded everyone about his presence, putting France on a three-point role to lead 16-15 at the second mandatory break. On Thursday, Serbia executed Poland with their serve but France did their homework and gave Serbia some of their own medecine with Kevin Le Roux serving two aces in a row to spur France on to a second set at 25-19.
Serbia tried to keep their chances in this match alive and built up a three-point lead at the first TTO in set three, but Les Bleus soon fought back to close the gap to one. This irritated team captain Dragan Stankovic, who’s massive hit from the middle stretched Serbia's lead to four at 13-9. Le Roux doubled his efforts in block and attack, but Serbia came back to their good play and after Ngapeth’s error they were eyeing the set at 18-15. Laurent Tillie’s players knew what they wanted and started chasing the score harder. In the point-by-point ending in Tauron Arena, the crowd showed their support to Serbia and Uros Kovacevic closed the set at 26-24.
Les Bleus showed up on court with a determination to stay in the game and to defend their World League title. Marechal splurged with the serve again and France led 6-4. Unfortunately, their own mistakes thwarted the plan of an easy win and Serbia returned with a good play. Lisinac’s block forced coach Tillie to make substitutions with Serbia ahead at 14-8. Ngapeth and company looked as if somebody switched their power off. It was the wind in the Serbian sail – Kovacevic using French mistakes on the counter attack and they continued to lead 18-13. Polish fans in the venue were glad, because only Serbia's victory could take their team to the semifinals. Stankovic built a wall at the net and lead Serbia to a 25-19 win.
Undoubtedly both teams wanted to win and played hard from the beginning. Kovacevic and Rouzier exchanged blows but Serbia changed sides ahead 8-7 on the score board. The world No. 12 Serbians started making errors before Toniutti pulled off a superb block to put France, ranked 10th in the world, ahead 11-9. The motivated tricolours did their job well and did not drop their chance – Ngapeth killed and then a double block stopped Serbia in their tracks so France clinched the tiebreaker 15-12 and could enjoy promotion to the semifinals.