Tillie: "Three Finals qualifications in three years - I would not have believed it even in my wildest dreams"


France coach Laurent Tillie cheers on his team

Lausanne, Switzerland, June 12, 2017 – France claimed their sixth win in six matches in the FIVB Volleyball World League on Sunday to be the first among the 11 teams in Group 1 to confirm their spot and join hosts Brazil in the Final Six that will take place in Curitiba from July 4 to 8.

France have been in the Final Six in the last two editions. They made their first finals appearance in 2015, when they went on to bag the title in Rio de Janeiro. Last year, they earned bronze in Krakow, Poland.

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This year, France are the only unbeaten squad in the entire World League and their six victories have secured their spot in the Final Six. They will return to Brazil, the place where they earned their first success in the competition.

“Three qualifications for the Final Six in three years, I would not have believed it even in my wildest dreams,” France coach Laurent Tillie said.

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The French journey in 2017 has been fascinating. After sweeping their matches on the opening weekend in Kazan, they played in front of their home fans in Pau, where 15,000 spectators flocked to the Palais des Sports to witness their wins over Russia, Italy and the United States.

“We started very well with more strength on Saturday, but we have to admit that we are a little bit fatigued because the Americans put an enormous pressure on us,” Tillie said. “We had a little less worry in this match than with Italy because we read a little of their game. We lacked, on the other hand, a little success in the counter-attacks in this match.”

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Without superstar Earvin Ngapeth, France have shown a lot of toughness in overcoming strong rivals. Coach Tillie knows his boys very well and has also relied on his bench to contribute to their sixth victory.

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“We have tried to find a number of rotations, and the bench has brought in a very important sixth victory for the team and for our qualification to the Final Six.

“What I’m interested in is consistency, that’s what we have to look for at the high level. It’s a great performance to reach this feat of making the Final Six three times in a row, without Earvin, Kevin (Tillie) and the other injured players Franck Lafitte, Jonas Aguenier and Horacio D’Almeida. What is really good here is the contribution of each player.”

The squad still has to complete the final leg of the group stage in Antwerp from July 16 to 18 and play against Italy, Canada and Belgium, respectively.

“We will reintegrate Earvin in the line-up in Antwerp,” said Tillie on Ngapeth’s return. “Earvin brings so much to this team and it’s just normal that he should be with us. He is still recovering but we will try to get him in shape for Curitiba.”

In Ngapeth’s absence, Stephen Boyer has certainly earned his stripes with the team, after top scoring on five occasions. His performances have made France's prospects in the tournament even more exciting.

“Stephen plays incredibly,” said France libero Jenia Grebennikov on their rising star Boyer. “Frankly speaking, this guy is a monster. Whatever he does, he does it superbly; and when he makes a mistake, we do not blame him because we know that he is committed to it completely. He makes a way to score even when the ball is not good.”

The other players are all delighted with the progress of the team and how they are getting more attention from the fans.

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“I think we can do everything with this team," Ngapeth said. "We can win everything…even the Olympic Games.

“We want to make French volleyball at the top of sports in France. It is not easy, because all sports in France are so strong. But we are so happy that the hall is full - it is very good for volleyball in France.”

“It’s good to see all the people watch us and see that the French team is a good team,” Julien Lyneel said.

Nicolas Le Goff puts all of the positives in perspective. “We have a team that matures easily,” he said. “Some time ago we were able to do some exploits but on some matches we did not have the resources to reverse the trend. Now we have played super volleyball with six wins in six games.

“There’s always a first time for everything and we have to get used to it. Just like the first time we won the World League and the European Championship, and when we made it to our first Olympic Games in Rio after France missed three Olympic editions. Being in the Final Six for three times in a row is flattering and we should honour it. If we can continue to rewrite history then that would be so much better.”


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