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Russia stun hosts France to emerge inaugural FIVB men's Nations League champions in emphatic fashion

(Photo by FIVB)
by Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, AIPS Young Reporter, Nigeria
LILLE, July 8, 2018 Ė Russia have clinched the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League title after an emphatic 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-23) victory over hosts France at a packed magnificent Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, France.

The tournament's Most Valuable Player, Maxim Mikhaylov scored a match-high 19 points as he inspired Russia to victory, while France could only settle for silver in spite of Earvin Ngapeth's amazing performance which earned him 16 points.
The hosts had a passionate home crowd behind them, while Russia had to endure the boos that accompanied their serves.

To reach the final, France had thwarted a spirited comeback from the USA to win 3-2 while Russia thrashed a lethargic Brazil, reigning Olympic champions, 3-0 in what was the lowest-scoring game in the entire VNL. Considering that both sides were yet to lose a match in the Final 6 prior to the final, spectators expected an intriguing encounter and the atmosphere was thoroughly charged about 30 minutes before the match with an terrific performance from Grammy award winning and highest ranking female DJs in the world DJ duo, Nervo.

The last time both sides met was in the final week of the tournamentís preliminary round at the Pala Panini in Italy where France easily thrashed Russia in straight sets (25-20, 25-13, 25-18) and extended their winning streak against the reigning European champions to four. Both teams had already qualified for the Final 6 at the time and so were only playing for pride.

But this time the prestigious trophy of the inaugural Volleyball Nations League and a prize money was at stake and Russia grabbed the initiative from the get-go by picking the first point. The hosts responded immediately with an equalizer and took the lead through an Earvin Ngapeth ace. However Russia soon took back the lead and went on to win the opening set 25-22 as France was left to chase for the most part.

The second set began like the first with Russia claiming the first point. France soon found themselves trailing by eight points but eventually closed the gap to 1 point at 21-20. However they could not get any more points as Russia took the second set 25-20.

The third set was keenly contested with France looking like they were about to initiate a comeback. Both sides went at each other and were tied at 23-23 as the encounter reached its climax but Russia broke away and ultimately won the match.

Earlier, Aaron Russell produced a rousing performance to help the United States claim the bronze medal at the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League after beating Brazil 3-0 (25-21, 28-26, 28-26). The third place would serve as some sort of consolation for the Americans who suffered a heart-breaking semi-final defeat to France. It is their first podium finish at a world-level event since finishing 3rd at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
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