France survived a late rally by USA to claim the Volleyball Nations League title – a second major trophy for the European powerhouse in less than a year after a gold-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics.
In a spectacular five-set showdown in Bologna, Italy, France claimed a 3-2 (25-16, 25-19, 15-25, 21-25, 15-10) victory for a first silverware in the history of the competition, leaving USA with a second runner-up finish.
Star opposite hitter Earvin Ngapeth chipped in a match-high 22 points for the champion, with Jean Party (17pts) and Trevor Clevent (11) also finishing in double figures.
Aaron Russel scored 20 points for the Americans, followed by Torey Defalco (13) and Garret Muagututia (11).
Party looked unstoppable in a one-sided first set as France cruised to a 15-6 lead before taking the set with a remarkable nine-point advantage.
The Frenchmen started the second set where they left off in the first, establishing an early 7-2 lead. Andrea Giani’s team kept pace to stay in control as Ngapeth finished the job with a hit for the 25-19 set winner.
Defalco’s switch in position to an opposite changed the course of the game in the third set, as the Americans went in front 9-5 early on and then widened the gap to 20-13. A powerful pipe by Russell delivered the set point for USA, immediately converted by Defalco for a 25-15 scoreline.
The two sides went neck-and-neck for the major part of the fourth set before USA managed to go four points clear at 22-18. Middle blocker Jeffrey Jendryk hammered an overpass to bring in set point at 24-20 and a long serve by Ngapeth handed USA a 25-21 win.
France did a great job in recovering from back-to-back setbacks, going on a six-point run in the tiebreak, highlighted by two consecutive points by Ngapeth for 7-2 lead.
Americans made another two decisive errors as France went on to win the decider 15-10.
Earlier at the Unipol Arena, reigning world champion Poland eased past the host in straight sets (25-16, 25-23, 25-20) in the third-place contest – a third successive podium finish for the Poles after a runner-up spot in 2021 and a bronze in 2019.
France’s Earvin Ngapeth (9) hits a spike during a victory over USA at the Volleyball Nations League final in Bologna, Italy, on July 24, 2022.
There was further joy for Ngapeth in the awarding ceremony as the 31-year-old Frenchman took home the Most Valuable Player award to add to his MVP prizes at the Tokyo Olympics and the FIVB Volleyball World League in 2015 and 2017.
France dominated the seven-man Dream Team of the competition.
Ngapeth was joined by Trevor Clevenot in being named the Best Outside Hitter, while Party was awarded with the Best Opposite prize and Jenia Grebennikov took the Best Libero award.
Poland’s Mateusz Bieniek and American David Smith were jointly recognized as the Best Middle Blockers, with Micah Christenson of the US named Best Setter.