Partisan crowds lead Poland and USA to VNL Finals opening victories
Poland came away with a stunning five-set win over VNL preliminary leader Brazil to start the Finals Round
Chicago, USA, July 10, 2019 – The second FIVB Men’s Volleyball Nations League Finals opened Wednesday with two stellar matches for the fans in Chicago. In the first match, the heavily partisan Polish crowd cheered on the VNL underdog to a surprising Pool B five-set win over VNL Preliminary Round winner Brazil on a neutral court. In the second match, the home crowd spurred the USA to a four-set win over France in Pool A.
Poland used the backing of the pro-Poland crowd to stun Brazil 3-2 (25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-9) in the opening Pool B match.
“Poland fans are great across the globe, whether in Poland, Australia or here in Chicago,” Poland head coach Vital Heynen said.
While the audience was not balanced in the stands, the Polish offense certainly was as six players reached double figures. Bartosz Bednorz paced Poland with 18 points coming on 17 attacks and a block. Captain Karol Klos contributed 15 points including a team-best five blocks. Maciej Muzaj tacked on 12 points, while Huber Norbert followed with 11 points with nine attack points on 14 swings. Lukasz Kacmarek tallied 10 points in the victory.
Brazil was led by Wallace De Souza’s 21 points, while Ricardo Lucarelli Souza boasted 18 points. Yoandy Leal Hidalgo and Flavio Gualberto tacked on 14 and 11 points, respectively.
“Brazil was pretty tense today,” Brazil head coach Renan Dal Zotto said. “We started off the match well, but then things went a lot better for Poland. They played a lot better than us today. Brazil had a bad day. We need to focus on the next game now to make sure to qualify for the semifinals.”
Poland came up big at the net with a 12-7 block advantage to offset Brazil’s slim advantages in attacks (69-68) and aces (5-3).
Brazil, although 14-1 in the 2019 Preliminary Round, has had a propensity of being extended to five sets with today’s match being the sixth time playing a tiebreaker.
Poland, which did not qualify for the Finals Round until the next to last day of the preliminary phase, can clinch a spot into Saturday’s semifinals with a victory over Iran, who will be playing their first match of the Finals. Brazil are idle on Thursday and will challenge Iran on Friday to conclude Pool B.
The teams split the first two sets with each winning 25-23 and it appeared Brazil was heading to a 2-1 lead in the third set after Poland was given a red card to put them behind 16-11. That seemed to fire up the victors as they scored 14 of the final 19 points to shift momentum. Brazil scored the final three points of the fourth set for the 25-21 victory, sending the match to a tiebreaker.
Poland gained the early momentum of the tiebreaker with a 5-2 advantage, but Brazil silenced the quick start for a while by tying the set at 6-all. The momentum switched to Poland with an 8-2 run and finalized the set at 15-9.
USA – France
USA, hosting its most prestigious tournament since the 1996 Olympic Games, used the home crowd’s energy to pull out a 3-1 (25-16, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21 victory) in front of their home fans.
“I think it feels great to get the first win in the VNL Finals – it is a big deal,” USA head coach John Speraw said. “It wasn’t a very pretty match on either side, and I think (France head coach) Laurent (Tillie) would probably agree with me. I am just pleased to win enough points to move on to the next match.”
Maxwell Holt pocketed a team-high 17 points, including an eye-opening eight blocks to go with seven kills and two aces in an all-around performance. Aaron Russell was on point in his first VNL match of 2019 as he connected for 13 kills on 24 swings, two blocks and an ace for 16 point. Captain Taylor Sander contributed 13 points, including 12 kills.
Sander said it was great feeling to step onto the court in front of a home crowd for such a prestigious event.
“We are really excited and grateful to put this event on,” Sander said. “To be here playing in Chicago and having so many family and friends, and then our home crowd has been amazing. We are just excited to be back on our home soil because we don’t get a chance to play here much.”
USA opened the first set strong, reaching the second technical timeout up 16-11 and controlled the final stages for a 25-16 victory. In the second set, France battled its way into the lead at 17-16. The Americans used a 3-0 run to stake a 21-19 advantage and capped the set at 25-22. Through a close third set, France reached a two-point cushion 22-20 and won 25-23. USA built a 19-15 lead in the fourth set after consecutive blocks that propelled them to a 25-21 victory.
France challenges Russia on Thursday in a repeat of the 2018 VNL Finals, while the USA awaits Russia on Friday to conclude their three-team pool. Earlier this season France defeated Russia to open the VNL preliminary phase.
However, France is now in a must win situation against Russia, and their captain Benjamin Toniutti feels his team must “play smarter” against the Russians as they are a similar team to the Americans.
“We have to play a little smarter than today,” Toniutti said of facing Russia on Thursday. ”We tried to kill every ball (against the USA), and we know that is rather difficult against this kind of block. Tomorrow will be the same against Russia as they have a strong block as well.”