France setter Antoine Brizard in action at the net

Reigning Olympic champions France had to bring their absolute best game to the Arena Stozice on Monday in order to avoid an upset against Japan in the Round of 16 of the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship 2022 and remain in contention for their first world title.

The Europeans were pushed to their limits by the Asians and had to avoid multiple match points, but benefited from the depth and the star power of their squad to come out on top of a thrilling five-set (25-17, 21-25, 26-24, 22-25, 18-16) battle in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and earn their place among the best eight teams in the tournament.

· Watch all FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

The impressively even match saw a great balance between the teams in the key stats, with France prevailing in blocks (11 to eight) and both sides registering identical production in kills (64 each) and aces (five).

The key to the French victory was, perhaps, the substitution that brought backup opposite Stephen Boyer into the match in the second set. Coming off the bench for Jean Patry, the 26-year-old Boyer helped raise the team’s level, producing 17 points with 16 kills and one block.


Boyer came off the bench to lead the French scoring efforts

Barthélémy Chinenyeze and Earvin Ngapeth were equally productive, with the 24-year-old middle blocker tallying 14 kills and three blocks and the star outside hitter leaving the court with 15 kills (including the game-winning one) and a pair of aces.

“It was nerve-wracking, such a crazy match,” Chinenyeze reflected. “Japan played an amazing match and because of that, the victory feels so good now. Nishida was on fire, we tried different things with our blocking and defence to stop him, but he would always have something else. We knew it was going to be a hard match, but we honestly didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was. Now we rest and prepare for the quarterfinals.”


The French block had a hard time dealing with Japanese star Nishida

As highlighted by Chinenyeze, Yuji Nishida was indeed on fire, chipping in a match-high 31 points with 28 kills, two blocks and one ace. The 22-year-old high-flying opposite hit an impressive 57.50% efficiency rate.

Outside hitters Yuri Ishikawa and Ran Takahashi also played a big role in the Japanese performance, with the team captain tallying 22 points (19 kills, one block, two aces) and the 21-year-old rising star adding another 11 (nine kills, one block, one ace).

Looking to improve from their fourth-place finish in 2014, the French will now play reigning European champions Italy in the quarterfinals. The all-European duel will take place in Ljubljana, on Wednesday, at 17.30 local time (15.30 GMT).

French and Italians met twice this season, both times in the Volleyball Nations League, and the Olympic champions won both meetings – one in the opening day and the other in the semifinals – in straight sets.

The Round of 16 will be completed on Tuesday, with two more matches, both in Gliwice, Poland. At 17.30 local time (15.30 GMT), Serbia and Argentina will play each other. Later, at 21.00 local time (19.00 GMT), it will be time for Brazil and Iran to clash. The winners of these matches will meet in the quarterfinals, on Thursday, in Gliwice.