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5 March 2014
Cameroon’s volleyball ladies could hardly believe their luck. “Qualified for the World Championship Italy 2014! Thank you God,” wrote their best-known international Laetitia Moma Bassoko on her Facebook page after a success even she seemed to find hard to comprehend.
The Lionesses, as the Cameroon national team is traditionally known as, could do nothing but sit and watch on the final match day of the qualifying tournament in the Harcha Hacène Hall in Algeria, as hosts Algeria provided the necessary support in a real thriller.
Egypt failed to convert a two set to one lead and a match point in the fourth set, eventually losing 3-2 (23-25, 25-15, 19-25, 29-27, 15-10) to Algeria. This left the final table with three teams with a record of four wins and one defeat. In the end, it came down to point difference, with Cameroon (13) claiming the ticket to the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship from September 23 to October 12 in Italy. Egypt (12) and Algeria (11), on the other hand, will have to watch from home. Having lost 3-2 to Egypt, Cameroon ultimately had a dominant 3-1 win against hosts Algeria to thank for their progress to the World Championship.
One week after Tunisia surprisingly became the first ladies team from Africa to qualify for the highlight of the season, on the back of a key victory against Kenya, Cameroon secured the second and final ticket awarded by the CAVB confederation. In doing so, they completed the double for the proud country, whose men had already qualified under similarly fortunate circumstances for the FIVB Men’s World Championships in Poland from August 30 to September 21. Incidentally, the men finished just ahead of Algeria in second place. The fact that it was the Algerians who then helped Cameroon to the Women’s World Championship speaks volumes about the level of fair play in volleyball in general, and particularly in Algeria.
“Cameroon’s men have now qualified for the World Championship twice in a row, while the ladies have made it through on two of the last three occasions. That makes our country by far the number one volleyball nation in central Africa,” said the coach of the Cameroon men’s team, Peter Nonnenbroich. The German had previously supervised the Cameroon ladies team on their historic first appearance at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships as an FIVB development assistant. The Lionesses finished 21st on their debut in Japan. Nonnenbroich then went on to guide the men to the competition in 2010 and 2014. The World Championship sees the top teams in the world play against each other every four years.
Women’s coach Joseph Nane Eone admitted that they had drawn inspiration from the men’s triumph: “When one succeeds, it boosts the morale of the other team. But it is even better when you have two children, and both pass the examination.” After qualifying for the World Championship, the men’s team was rewarded by the Cameroon governance with a bonus of about US$ 100,000. The ladies will also receive a bonus, although – as in most African countries – women’s volleyball does not enjoy the same status as the men’s game.
“Football is a religion in Cameroon. Of the other sports, volleyball is number one,” explained Nonnenbroich. Despite this, conditions are nowhere near those found in the top countries in Europe, Asia and America. Matches in the national men’s and women’s leagues are almost all played outside, and mostly on rock-hard surfaces like concrete. The men and ladies spent weeks preparing together for their qualifying campaigns for the FIVB World Championships in the country’s only large volleyball hall, in the capital Yaounde.
Almost all of Cameroon’s successful ladies team play in the national league. Only Laetitia Moma Bassoko has made the step up to a top international club. The hitter plays for German champions Schweriner SC, and was involved in this year’s European Champions League. The second appearance at the FIVB World Championship presents Cameroon’s ladies with another opportunity to play in front of a global public. Nonnenbroich: “It will not be easy for the ladies at the World Championship, as there is a very big gap with the top countries. However, they will do their very best, as a rank outsider, to create an upset.”
Cameroon was the 18th of the 24 teams to qualify for the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships. Before them, the other African team from Tunisia and seven European teams had already come through their qualifying tournaments on the first weekend of 2014: the winners of the five third-round qualifying tournaments – Turkey, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, and Bulgaria – as well as the top two second-placed teams Serbia and the Netherlands. They joined hosts Italy, defending champions Russia and Germany from Europe, Brazil and Argentina from South America, and Japan, China, Thailand and Kazakhstan from Asia.
These 18 teams are certain to be present when the lots are drawn for the season highlight on March 10 in Parma. The destination of the remaining six tickets will be determined after the ceremonial drawing of lots. The five qualifying tournaments in the NORCECA confederation (each with four teams) will be played in May with hosts Cuba (May 5 to 11), USA, Canada, Dominican Republic (all from may 13 to19) and Puerto Rico (May 20 to 26). The winner of each group will qualify for the World Championship, while the group runners-up go through to a play-off for the final place with six teams from June 2 to 9 in Trinidad.
The African CAVB confederation’s final ticket will be allocated this week: Tunisia is both the host and hot favourite at the last African qualifying tournament till March 8, when they will battle it out against Seychelles, Congo Brazzaville, Senegal and Niger for a ticket to the FIVB Men’s World Championships. Maybe Tunisia will have two reasons to celebrate – like Cameroon.
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