This season, the League of Nations has become special, and not only because it was held without one of the leaders in world volleyball – Russia. For the first time the tournament was held in a new format. For the first time, the French took gold from men. For the first time in the history of women’s competitions, non-American women became the winners. It seems that no one even missed the Russian team.
The decision to change the format of the League of Nations was made already in the post-COVID period. In 2020, the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic, and in 2021 it was held in a truncated format. In 2022, the League of Nations was finally complete and updated. Men and women played 12 matches in the preliminary round during three game weeks – four each week. In each round, the teams were divided into two groups. The final stage, which included eight teams, was played according to the playoff system.
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In addition, the tournament matches themselves were held according to the changed rules. In each game, except for the fifth, after one of the teams scored 12 points, a technical break was made. The number of timeouts was also limited – each team could afford one tactical break per game. Innovations also affected the time of putting the ball into play. Now, 7 seconds were allocated for the preparation of the serve and 8 seconds for its execution.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the League of Nations was held in different countries. Russia was originally supposed to be among the hosts of the matches, but in April these stages were postponed. So, Russia lost the matches of the “group 6” for men, which were to be held in Kemerovo on July 5-10, and the “group 6” for women, scheduled for June 28-3 July in Ufa. Instead, the men’s games were moved to Gdansk and Sopot (Poland) and the women’s games to Sofia (Bulgaria).
The main loss was the removal of the national teams themselves. But the men’s team, despite the failure at the European Championship 2021, where the team took only seventh place, was considered one of the favorites. As a result, instead of the Russians, China went to the tournament for men and Bulgaria for women.
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In the absence of the Russian national team, the French took the gold of the League of Nations. Events in the final match against the USA developed almost the same way as in the final of the Olympics, where the “tricolors” met with our guys. The French took the first two games without any problems (25:16, 25:19), and lost the next two (15:25, 21:25). Everything was decided in a tie-break, where the “tricolors” immediately went into the gap, and the Americans were not able to close the gap – 15:12.
For the French, the victory in the League of Nations was historic. Prior to this, the team won silver and bronze of the tournament, and they won gold for the first time.
Italy national team
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“We love being on set together so much. I think you can see it… – setter Antoine Brizard shared his emotions after the victory. – We are very close off the court, and this is the main thing. Once we start playing with that energy and that chemistry, it’s hard to stop us.”
The main hero of the final was Erwin Ngapeth. Doigrovschik chalked up 22 points. In total, for the entire tournament, the Frenchman scored 174 points, while becoming the top scorer in the preliminary stage of the League of Nations. Not surprisingly, in the end, it was Ngapeth who was named the MVP of the tournament. But the award for the best libero was received by the player of the French national team with Russian roots Zhenya Grebennikov.
The third place in the League of Nations was taken by the Polish team, which confidently defeated Italy in the confrontation for the bronze medal – 3:0 (25:16, 25:23, 25:20).
US sensational failure
The women had a sensation. The dominance of the US team, which won all the Nations League draws, was interrupted. And it was not the Brazilian team that did this, which twice became the silver medalist, but the Italian team, which had not previously risen above fifth place. Despite the fact that the Azzurra won gold at the 2021 European Championships, this turn of events was completely unexpected.
In the final, the Italians met with the Brazilians. The meeting was quite tense, but the Italians miraculously took all three sets. The result is 3:0 (25:23, 25:22, 25:22). Paola Enogu, who scored 21 points in the final, helped the team win in many ways. The diagonal striker became the MVP of the tournament, and this is not surprising, because in three matches of the final stage she scored 83 points.
Serbian national team after defeating the US team
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“I am very happy and proud of us because this is the first victory for the League of Nations. Now we can finally go on vacation! – admitted Enogu after the awards ceremony. “Like I always say, I can get a player award, but more importantly, I’m happy that we work together as a team. I hope we can continue like this…”
The US team was generally left without medals. Even at the quarterfinal stage, the Americans were knocked out of the tournament by the Serbs – 3:2 (29:27, 25:23, 20:25, 20:25, 15:13). It was the Serbian national team that became the bronze medalist of the League of Nations, beating Turkey in the match for third place – 3:0 (27:25, 25:17, 26:24).
Of course, if Russia were at the tournament, the results of the competition could be different, especially for men. But what would have changed – one can only guess.