Earvin Ngapeth on the serve

France returned to the top of the standings in the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2022 after producing a 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-21) shutout of defending champions Brazil on Friday. The Olympic champs now lead a pack of four teams, each on an 8-2 win-loss record, and three on 25 points, separated by set ratio. Brazil, who are one of six teams to have already secured their spot at the Final Round in Bologna from July 20 to 24, are sixth in the table on 7-4 and 21 points.

While France dominated in all scoring elements, there was plenty of spectacular serving on both sides of the net to entertain the spectators and bring in valuable break points in the battle on the court. The French out-aced the Brazilians by 11 direct points to five. Their opposite Jean Patry contributed three of those towards his 19-point match high, but as many as six French players signed off with aces to their names. Coach Andrea Giani’s squad also showed a high success rate of 60% in attack to down their mighty opponents, who made things difficult for them by committing very few unforced errors (only nine in the match!).

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Jean Patry’s ’s top plays against Brazil

Patry announced his presence early into the first set when he spiked to level the score at 1-1 and then aced to give France the first lead at 2-1, before outside hitter Yacine Louati extended it to 3-1 with a monster block. Brazilian opposite Darlan Souza reacted swiftly and scored from the serving line to level it back at 4-4. But then the Europeans went on a six-point rampage, including two aces by middle blocker Nicolas Le Goff, to open a 10-4 gap. The fans on the stands applauded a great performance by French setter Antoine Brizard, who ran to save a ball on the other side of the net and then returned to finish the rally with a solo block for 16-10. Brazil, committing zero unforced errors throughout this set, attempted to stay in contention and narrowed the gap to 20-16 with an ace by outside Adriano Cavalcante and to 21-18 with another ace by middle Isac Santos. However, the French spikers and blockers dominated the net. Finally, a spectacular rally, in which Brazil dug the first two powerful hits by the French, was finished off with a kill through the middle by Barthelemy Chinenyeze for 25-21.

Isac was the first to deliver an ace in the second set for a 2-0 Brazilian lead, but French star Earvin Ngapeth quickly reset the balance killing the overpass for 2-2. Two aces in a row by Patry put France in front at 10-9, but then he made two mistakes in a row to hand the lead back to Brazil, who added two more consecutive points to run off with a 13-10 advantage. France needed three break points to regain control and they achieved them with another three aces, by Ngapeth for 17-16, by Chinenyeze for 18-18 and by Brizard for a 23-22 lead. Then, Patry’s successful swing brought in the set point and Ngapeth put it away for 25-22.

Louati produced the first break point of set three directly from the serving line for a 3-1 advantage. Brazil’s Flavio Gualberto reacted with the same to tie it back at 6-6. After 8-8, the European team started building up a lead. Two more aces, by Ngapeth (for 15-12) and by Louati helped extend it to 21-16. Finally, Patry closed the match with a cross-court kill for the 25-21 winner.

“It was a tough game, even if we won 3-0. Brazil are always a tough opponent,” Yacine Louati said after the match. “We played our game and we were consistent. We are happy to win and have our eighth victory in the VNL. We have to be prepared to play against anybody (at the Finals). The tournament we’ve had so far has been kind of surprising and the ranking is still impossible to know. So we just have to play, keep going and we’ll see who we’ll play against.”

Brazil’s last game in Japan is against the hosts on Sunday. In their two remaining matches in Osaka, France will meet Argentina on Saturday and Australia on Sunday.

Earlier on Friday, Argentina defeated Australia to stay in contention for the Finals in Bologna. With a 19-point match high by opposite Bruno Lima, the South Americans came back from a set down to claim a 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-15) victory and rise to the 10th place in the current standings on 4-6 and 14 points. The loss left the Volleyroos bottom of the table on 1-10 and 2. They are in a must-win situation as they face France on Sunday for their last shot at avoiding relegation, and that win would help them only if Bulgaria lose both their remaining matches.

Friday’s competition continues with an encounter between Japan and Canada in Osaka, before moving on to the three fixtures in Gdansk: Bulgaria v Netherlands, Slovenia v Iran and Italy v Serbia.