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3 March 2014
Their joy knew no bounds when Tunisia’s female volleyball players made history in the backyard of their fierce rivals Kenya.
A 3-2 (25-21, 24-26, 15-25, 28-26, 15-10) win against hot favourites Kenya on Saturday was enough to secure Tunisia the first of two African tickets to the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship from September 23 to October 12 in Italy. The team from the north of the continent will line up among the best teams in the world for the first time for 28 years.
“We have accomplished our mission that we came for in Nairobi, and that was to qualify for the World Championship,” said Tunisia’s coach Messelimani Mohamed. “We knew it would be difficult to beat them on their home ground, but it's a good team and we knew what to expect since we played them in the Africa Nations Cup.” The two teams returned to the venue six months after they clashed in the African Cup of Nations last September. Kenya defeated Tunisia in straight sets to win their eighth continental title in front of their home fans. This time, however, the fans of the Kenyan team went home stunned – having qualified five times in a row, the African champions will be mere spectators during this year’s FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship.
“Tunisia break Kenya’s queens’ hearts,” was the fitting headline in a local newspaper. Kenya’s long-term coach David Lung'aho revealed the reasons behind the Tunisian success. “Tunisia has always been a good side and the win over Kenya just shows they have studied us well. They beat us tactically and we congratulate them on the win.” Prior to the game, the Kenyan coach had appeared full of confidence: “We have played against Tunisia many times and they have never beaten us.” However, Tunisia has put an end to his team’s period of dominance on the African continent.
Tunisian coach Messelimani Mohammed left out a number of star players, including outside hitter Nihel Ghoul and setter Maroua Brahoum, who starred for the team during the African Cup of Nations. However, the young team more than made up for their absence with an outstanding team spirit: “My players were ready to play their hearts out.”
They overcame even the greatest difficulties in that all-important match against Kenya. Impressive hitter Kaouther Jemaii was shown a red card in the third set for arguing with the referee. However, the world No. 27 then showed remarkable fighting spirit to turn around a 2-1 deficit. This result meant the Tunisian team ended the qualifying tournament undefeated – before the 3-2 win against Kenya, the team had previously triumphed 3-0 against Mozambique, Seychelles and Uganda, as well as securing a 3-1 victory over Senegal.
The historic success will also raise the profile of women’s volleyball in Tunisia. The country’s news agency and newspapers reported on the triumph, while news of the success was highlighted in red on the Tunisian Volleyball Federation’s website. The focus is usually clearly on the men’s national team, which has successfully qualified for the last three World Championships in a row. And the fourth qualification looks set to follow shortly: Tunisia is both the host and hot favourite at the last African qualifying tournament from March 2 to 8, when they will battle it out against the Seychelles, Congo Brazzaville, Senegal and Niger for a ticket to the FIVB Men’s World Championships. Maybe Tunisia will have two reasons to celebrate.
Whatever happens, the Tunisian ladies will travel to the World Championship as rank outsiders. The team has only appeared in the competition, which sees the top teams in the world go head to head for supremacy, on two occasions in the past: Tunisia finished 23rd in 1978 and 16th on their most recent appearance in 1986. And the Tunisian’s three triumphs in the African Championship also came well back in 1985, 1987 and 1999.
Tunisia qualification means that 17 of 24 teams have been decided for the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships. Before them, 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.
The 18th team will be known by the time the lots are drawn on March 10 in Parma, Italy. From February 23 to March 1, hosts Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo will battle for the second African ticket. The destination of the remaining six tickets will be determined after the 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, the Dominican Republic (all from May 13 to 19) 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.
One certainty is that the most dominant team in Africa in recent years, Kenya, will watch the highlight of the season from home. They can now focus solely on the team’s debut in the FIVB World Grand Prix from the July 25 to August 24.
Pools P to S include eight teams: Kenya, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Bulgaria and Australia. Coach David Lung'aho: “For us, we just have to go back to the drawing board as this is a big wake up call for us to re-strategise.”
Tunisia are currently the number one team in Africa on the back of their qualification for the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship.