They dreamed of a second European coronation, they will have to be satisfied with the bronze medal at best. For French volleyball players, finishing on the podium of this Euro 2023 prepared in special circumstances on Saturday would look like a victory.

If, they say, all roads lead to Rome, the path that leads the Blues to Paris and “their” Olympics must start from the Italian capital with a bronze medal around their neck. They will have to beat Slovenia on Saturday (6:00 p.m.), dominated on Thursday in the semi-finals by Poland (3-1), and above all digest as quickly as possible the slap inflicted by Italy (3-0). “This third place match for me is very important. There will of course be the enormous disappointment of Italy’s defeat in our minds, but we must use what happened in this match to beat Slovenia,” insisted Andrea Giani, the Italian coach of the Blues. “We did not show our true colors in the semi-final” against Italy, he regretted.

“We have to go for this third place, no one in this group has ever won a bronze medal in a Euro,” added their captain Benjamin Toniutti. Less than a year before the 2024 Olympics for which they are automatically qualified as host nation, unlike the Italians, Poles or Slovenes who must play a qualifying tournament as soon as Euro 2023 ends, this Championship Europe is their last major meeting before the Paris Olympic fortnight.

The Blues were reassured by reaching the last four after mixed results since their Olympic coronation in Tokyo (victory in the 2022 Nations League, 9th in Euro 2021, 5th in the 2022 World Cup). But they also sinned repeatedly in one area, service, with too many errors to be able to aim high (16 against Italy). What they also remember (and above all) is that they approached this Euro 2023 with a group in heterogeneous form, with players suffering from physical problems and others, including the star of the team Earvin Ngapeth, returning from injuries. “Physically, we weren’t all well. If we play and we are all well, if I don’t have my knee problem, it’s not the same match, it’s not the same preparation, we had to juggle all that,” said summed up Ankara’s new receiver-attacker.

Victim of a crack in the quadriceps tendon of his right thigh in April, Ngapeth, voted best player of the 2021 Olympic tournament, arrived out of form and lacking rhythm. After two disappointing group matches, he then settled for a few points in the round of 16 and in the quarter-finals, before trying everything from the second set against Italy (6 points). “I’m not worried” in the run-up to the Olympics, he insisted. “It remains positive to have reached this point and to be able to compete for a medal despite all our problems.”