Twelve months ago the Russians beat host France to claim the first-ever VNL title and they have done it on this year’s host nation’s soil again this time around, beating the Americans 3-1 (25-23, 20-25, 25-21, 25-20).
Earlier on Sunday Poland won the bronze medal match with a 3-0 (25-17, 25-23, 25-21) win over Brazil.
The 2019 VNL is the second year of existece of the competition and the USA men’s team was attempting to become the first country to win both gender titles in an FIVB top annual world-level tournament; this after the USA women’s team defeated Brazil 3-2 to win the women’s VNL title earlier this month in China.
USA had defeated Russia 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-20) earlier in the Finals Round pool play, though Russia fielded a starting line-up mainly of reserves as both teams had already qualified for the semi-finals.
However the tables were turned by the Russians who took the gold-medal match for the second year in a row in clinical fashion.
Russia wing spiker Dmitry Volkov led the gold medallists with 17 points, including 13 via attack, two blocks and two aces. Wing spiker Egor Kliuka contributed 14 points in the victory, including a stellar 11-of-14 hitting, two aces and a block. As part of a balanced offence led by setter and captain Igor Kobzar, Russia had four players in double-figure scoring with middle Ivan Iakovlev tallying seven kills on 10 attacks, a team-high four blocks and an ace. Opposite Victor Poletaev added 11 points in the win.
Kliuka and Iakovlev were also selected the VNL Dream Team for Russia.
Russia held a 10-7 block advantage and a slim 7-6 margin in aces, while USA produced a 51-49 edge in attack points. Russia benefited from 29 USA errors in the match, 11 of which came in the opening set.
Volkov, who was named to the VNL Dream Team, said: “It feels fantastic because we are very proud.
We are missing a lot of our top players, so we didn’t expect to win.
We are very happy. With a new coach, we have a new team and played very strong throughout the VNL.”
Russia coach Tuomas Sammelvuo said: “I think we were patient because we knew USA was a great passing team.
We wanted to play a long match because they also played five sets late. Maybe their serving and passing wouldn’t be as effective. We started the game in trouble with our opposite, but then he was able to get the most important balls down when we really needed it.
It was a team effort, to believe and to trust in each other. We played as a team.”
Outside hitter Taylor Sander paced USA with a match-high 20 points through 17 kills on 29 attacks, two aces and a block. Matt Anderson, named the tournament’s most valuable player/best opposite, scored 19 points on 18 kills and an ace.
Sammelvuo added, “We managed to control Matt Anderson, the key player, and Taylor Sander in attack. Blocking was a difference while their reception broke down.”
“I am happy because we have some new players at this level and big roles for the first time,” Sammelvuo said. “So that is great.”
Sammelvuo agreed with Volkov on the team’s expectations to win the VNL this year with many of the top players missing, adding “I think we didn’t expect to win when we started. We focused on getting better day by day.”
In the bronze medal match, Poland defeated Brazil for the second time in the VNL Finals with the first victory being a surprising five-set win to open pool play.
They were led by Bartosz Bednorz and his 21 points, including 15 attack points, four blocks and two aces. Lukasz Kazmarek added 11 points and captain Karol Klos added 10 points. Team stats reflected the nature of Poland’s victory as they held a 14-4 block advantage and 6-2 margin in aces. Poland also benefitted from 19 Brazil errors.
2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League – Dream Team
Best Outside Hitters: Egor Kliuka and Dmitri Volkov (both Russia), Bartosz Bednorz (Poland)
Best Middle Blockers: Max Holt (USA), Ivan Iakovlev (Russia)
Best Libero: Erik Shoji (USA)
Best Setter: Micah Christenson (USA)
MVP/Best Opposite: Matt Anderson (USA)