Iran’s first defeat at the 2014 World Championship totally jumbled the standings in Pool D. France’s daemonic 3-1 win ended the Persians’ winning streak and Les Bleus emerged atop at the end of the sixth competition day and third overall for the Group of Death.
Good news arrived from the Iranian camp prior to the match with France. Their usual first-choice opposite, Shahram Mahmoudi, had recovered from the injury he had suffered during the first game against Italy and was available to head coach Slobodan Kovac. Mahmoudi had already had problems this summer as another injury prevented him from taking part of most of his country’s World League games. It turned out that the 2000 Sydney Olympic gold medalist with Yugoslavia Kovac would need him urgently. Iran faced a very inspired French side and one of the heroes from the previous two matches, Amir Ghafour, was taken out in the middle of the opening set and replaced by the experienced Mahmoudi. His 44.7% in attack helped Iran significantly in set 2, but this time the Asians were in much more trouble as the French side-outs appeared devastating.
Highly motivated and focused after the neglected and eventually missed 2-0 advantage over Italy two days ago, the Frenchmen displayed their best performance so far in the championship. If there should be a single element I must point out that turned the scales in their favour, it was definitely the impressive attack (and counter attack, respectively). Benjamin Toniutti was very precise with his hitters and all of them, the opposite Antoine Rouzier plus the two receivers Earvin Ngapeth and Kevin Tillie, did a great job converting the chances they got. My pick for game’s MVP would be Kevin Tillie due to his immense 70.83% attack efficiency, some of which very crucial counter points, and the not bad reception job. France’s win was sealed with a huge block by Kevin Le Roux which marked the fourth set’s final score of 29-27.
My pick for the game’s MVP – Kevin Tillie (France)
Iran – France 1-3 (18-25, 25-14, 19-25, 27-29)
Iran: Marouf, Ghaemi 6, Mousavi 12, Ghafour 1, Mirzajanpour 3, Gholami 8, Zarif – libero, Mahmoudi 18, Ebadipour 11, Fayazi, Mahdavi, Tashakori 1
France: Toniutti 1, Ngapeth 19, Le Roux 10, Rouzier 19, Tillie 18, Le Goff 7, Grebennikov – libero, Sidibe 1, Marechal, Jaumel
The first game in the program on Thursday was an all-North American affair. The Americans scored one of the fastest victories of this championship and surely the easiest three points they are ever going to take in Poland. Despite the energetic start of the World Championship, Puerto Rico is obviously underperforming and were disappointing to a certain extent yesterday, as well as against Belgium two days ago. Just look at the second set outcome and you will know why David Aleman‘s boys could do much better.
Paul Lotman‘s appearance on court instead of the wobbly Garrett Muagututia is a clear sign what might happen to the American starting six in the games to come. Besides, statistically Lotman was USA’s most successful attacker against Puerto Rico, regardless of whether the level of the opponent allows some major corollaries. In cases like this one, however, any choice for an MVP would not be undeserved.
My pick for the game’s MVP – Paul Lotman (USA)
Puerto Rico – USA 0-3 (15-25, 8-25, 20-25)
Puerto Rico: Goas 1, Cruz 2, Muniz 4, Torres 4, Soto 2, Mannix 5, Del Valle – libero, Jose Rivera 2, Jackson Rivera 3, Ortiz 5, Morales
USA: Christenson 3, Sander 11, Lee 6, Anderson 10, Lotman 9, Holt 9, E. Shoji – libero
I don’t remember the last time when Italy started without Dragan Travica in the Travica era. Mauro Berruto had to make some difficult decisions regarding his side after the vacillating start of the tournament. As a result, Travica and Parodi, both out of shape, sat on the bench and were replaced by Michele Baranowicz and Diatec Trentino’s Filippo Lanza. And just like in all their encounters so far at the 2014 World Championship, Squadra azzurra lost the opening set. Good Belgian blocks were the reason for the hard-fought 28-26 in favour of the Red Dragons. Jiri Kovar with his 20 points, nevertheless, played a significant role in the Italian comeback.
“A nervous start and a nervous ending of the match. We kept concentration and good level for two and a half sets. Our block and reception were good, but we still have to work to keep our level the same from beginning to end. We still need to improve, but the most important is that we earned three points today. We are optimistic about our condition, I changed some players today and it worked well. We’re prepared for this long tournament”, said Italian head coach Mauro Berruto.
Frank Depestele, Belgium’s captain: “Congratulations to Italy, they put us in trouble in counterattack, serve, defence and block. It was a tough game for us. Our first set was good and intense, but afterwards I didn’t know what to expect, they were playing much better and we lost our good momentum. Italy studied us really well and used it against us.”
My pick for the game’s MVP – Jiri Kovar (Italy)
Italy – Belgium 3-1 (26-28, 25-15, 25-16, 28-26)
Italy: Baranowicz 4, Kovar 20, Buti 10, Zaytsev 17, Lanza 17, Birarelli 9, Rossini – libero, Travica, Vettori, Parodi, Anzani 1, Massimo Colaci (libero)
Belgium: Depestele, Deroo 16, Verhees 5, van den Dries 8, Kilnkenberg 3, van de Voorde 11, Derkoningen – libero, Coolman 2, Claes 3, Verhanneman 2, van Walle 6, Valkiers