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France, Iran book Rio Olympic volleyball spots

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TOKYO: European champions France booked their place in this summer’s Rio Olympic volleyball competition after beating Venezuela on Saturday at a men’s qualifying tournament in Tokyo.

Asia’s top team Iran joined them, reaching their first-ever Olympics with an impressive defeat of Poland, who had already qualified.

Wing spiker Antonin Rouzier led the way with 17 points for the French — who have shot to prominence in recent years after taking the European and World League titles — as they won 25-21, 23-25, 25-11, 20-25, 15-9.

“We’re happy to book our ticket to the Olympics,” France coach Laurent Tillie told reporters.

“We only needed two sets but it was still stressful. We didn’t have a good rhythm but we’ve qualified and it’s been a dream for us to get there.”

The French needed just two sets to reach Rio. After taking the first, they dropped the second set but achieved their first Olympic qualification since 2004 on the third, powering through 25-11.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said captain Benjamin Toniutti.

“Four years ago we didn’t make it to the Olympics. It’s tough because Europe has so many good teams but hopefully we can show our strength in Rio.”

Iran’s danger man Shahram Mahmoudi top-scored with 24 points in a 25-20, 25-18, 20-25, 34-32 win over world champions Poland.

“It’s time to celebrate,” said Iran captain Mir Saied Marouflakrani.

“We’ve made history. We lost out by one set to Australia four years ago, which was a terrible memory for us and this could have been the last chance for some of these players to play at the Olympics.”

Poland qualified on Thursday after winning five of five matches until their unblemished record was ended by Iran.

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