Rarely in its history has the French volleyball team approached a world championship with so much certainty, a competition it has never won. “Even if everything can go very quickly in volleyball, we would be disappointed if the Blues did not win at least one medal”, summarized Laurent Tillie, the former coach of France, on the eve of the World Cup, which takes place from August 26 to September 11 in Slovenia and Poland. These two countries have replaced Russia, which was originally to host this meeting scheduled every four years.
Guided by Andrea Giani, their Italian coach, the Habs will play their three group matches at the Stozice stadium in Ljubljana, Slovenia. After having faced Germany for their entry in the running, Friday August 26, they will challenge, two days later, their host in a meeting which promises to be incandescent, then Cameroon, Tuesday August 30. The group is almost complete. Of the victorious team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, only central Daryl Bultor is missing, injured in the shoulder.
After correcting Italy at home (3-0) in the semi-final of the League of Nations, the Blues beat the United States with difficulty in the final (3-2) on July 24. For their only preparation match for the World Cup, they were full of confidence by crushing Brazil, one of the favorites, by 3 sets to 0, on August 21, in Montpellier.
French volleyball players have never seemed so strong. Like their compatriots crowned football world champions in 1998 with several key players playing in Italy (Zidane, Deschamps, Desailly, Thuram, Djorkaeff, etc.), the French team won its first Olympic title in 2021 thanks to to an armada of players evolving, or having evolved, in the Peninsula. « Playing there allows us to confront the best in the world every weekend », explains central Barthélémy Chinenyeze, 24, who has already had three clubs in four seasons in La Botte (Callipo Sport, Powervolley Milano and Cucine Lube Civitanova).
“Playing in Italy is a consecration”
Like the Top 14 in rugby, Serie A1 – the league’s top division – attracts talent from around the world, although its regulations limit the number of foreigners on the pitch to just three per team (out of seven players). “That’s why it’s so difficult to get into this championship. For a volleyball player, playing in Italy is a consecration. It was my dream! », says the libero (player who contributes exclusively in defense) Jenia Grebennikov, who spent six years in the Peninsula before going into exile in Russia.
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