France and Portugal have been in the European Footvolley Championship (EFC) finals all three times since it started in 2016, and this year was no exception. However, this year France took the title with a new team - Antoine Ottaviani (26) and Lucien "Lulu" Alessandri (20). In Graz they proved to be the strongest team.
The long way through qualification
Antoine and Lulu had to take the long way through the qualification tournament since they lost the French qualification final against 2016 EFC champions Dominique Susini and Anghjulu Maria Plasenzotti - which was held in Corsica earlier this year.
With 15 teams pre qualified for the main tournament there was one more spot up for grabs for the winner of the qualification tournament. This was a high level tournament with a lot of great games and 11 teams. In the end France 2, with Antoine and Lulu, came out as the winners after a spectacular final against Spain 2, with legendary players Pablo Carcelén and Carlos Delgado. They won 18-11 and secured the 16th and final spot in the main tournament.
On the road to the main tournament they played six games and even lost 18-16 against Portugal 3 in the third round. This meant they had to go the extra long way through the losers bracket where they eventually faced Spain 2 in the final.
This meant that Antoine and Lulu had already played 6 games before the main tournament even started. Were they tired? Or was this exactly what they needed to play better as a team?
All photos: Fatlum Kurtaj
Group C for France 2
The draw for the group stage sent France 2 into group C with Spain 1, Italy and Norway. They kept up the momentum and secured three wins. 18-14 against Spain, 18-6 against Norway and 18-14 against Italy. As the winner of group C they would face the runner up from group A which surprisingly was Switzerland - coming out with an important 18-14 win against Netherlands.
Group D for Portugal 1
Portugal 1, with players and reigning champions Nelson Pereira and Miguel Pinheiro, ended up in group C with Germany 1, Croatia and Belgium. Most of us believed this would be an easy win for Portugal, but Germany, with players Mo Obeid and Joel Nißlein, came out flying and beat the Portuguese 18-16 in a surprising win. With Germany as the group winner and Portugal second, the Portuguese they had to take a different route towards the final.
After the group stage was finished, the draw for the quarter finals was:
Clash of titans
This meant that the finalists from 2016 in Schwäbisch Gmünd and 2017 in Albufeira, France 1 and Portugal 1, faced each other already in the quarter finals. Portugal 1, with Pereira and Pinheiro, took charge in the match and won the first set 18-13 - just to see France 1 win with the same numbers in set number two. A third set to 15 points had to be played to separate the two teams. The final set was very close, but in the end the reigning champions won. France now had to put their faith in Antoine and Lulu.
The local heroes
The home team Austria - with the brothers Klemens and Jacob Hofmann-Wellenhof - impressed us by reaching yet another quarter final and faced a very good Spanish team - represented by Juan Antonio López Martinez and Sergio Antolinos González. Spain proved to be the stronger side and won 18-11 and 18-15. Austria gave the Spaniards a good fight and the home crowd some very good entertainment.
The Germans flying high
Germany 1 - with Joel Nißlein and Mo Obeid - came into the quarter final full of confidence after beating Portugal 1 in the group stage. Could they continue their run? They faced a strong Portuguese team with players Beto José Correia and Filipe Santos. Portugal 2 took an early lead in both sets and in the end they won 18-12 and 18-10. A disappointment to the ever progressing German team and their fans.
Old vs New
The last quarter final was a clash between old and new. Switzerland - with Nils Fehr and Benedikt Zwyssig - have played footvolley since the 90s. They surprised everyone by winning against Netherlands in the last group stage game - showing that experience takes you a long way in footvolley. They now had to face the new and much younger team, France 2, with Antoine and Lulu. The French took charge right away and won both sets 18-7.
The draw in the semi finals looked like this:
Neighbours face each other
Two times bronze winners Spain 1 had played solid throughout the tournament, but the first real challenge was now on the opposite side of the court - the reigning champions from Portugal. Juan and Sergio have always been close to reaching the final and had to play at their best to make the dream come true. Nelson and Miguel knew this and took charge in the first set beating the Spaniards 18-8. In the second set Juan and Antolinos came back and played much better. They were neck and neck with the Portuguese all the way to the end - only to lose 19-17.
Portugal with another chance
Portugal has a lot of talent and it is impressive to have two teams reach the semi finals. Could we see a final between two Portuguese teams? The French did not like that idea, but were unable to stop the Portuguese second team winning the first set 18-12. Was this the first sign of fatigue after playing all the games in the qualification tournament? Set number two proved that to be wrong and the French won 18-12 and we had to play a third set to decide the winner. And what a set this was. The teams followed each other all the way to the end, but France proved the stronger team in the end and won 15-12.
Yet again we saw a final between Portugal vs France. Only this time with a new French team. Antoine and Lulu now faced their biggest challenge since forming the team.
Just as we saw in the semi final the French started poorly and lost 18-13. Portugal did what they had to do and showed no sign of weakness. However, Antoine and Lulu had no intention of just giving away the win. They took the long way to the final and it was time to squeeze out the last drop of energy.
In set two the teams changed on having the lead throughout the set. Portugal even had a match point - but were not able to execute. That opened the door and they let the French back in to the game. 20-18 was the score in favor of France.
Portugal was able to taste the win, but let it slip away. In the third set there was no longer any doubt. France won comfortably 15-6 and was crowned the new European Footvolley Champions of 2018. This was extra special because Lucien "Lulu" Allesandri wins the title at the age of 20, the youngest European Footvolley Champion until now and for many years to come we presume.
The European Footvolley League is very proud to be able to crown the European Footvolley Champions for the third consecutive year. The tournament was put together by the amazing guys and girls from Footvolley Austria. The games were held in the middle of the town square in Graz and attracted a big crowd on every game day. The stadium was impressive and the Styrian hospitality is legendary. The live TV broadcast was superb and got picked up by several TV Channels worldwide. Does this taste like more? It does. Stay tuned for the EFVL calendar in 2019.