NAIROBI, Kenya, February 22 – African champions Kenya failed to qualify for a sixth straight FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championships after a 3-2(21-25, 25-15, 28-26, 10-15) heartbreak loss to Tunisia as curtains came down on continental Pool U qualifiers in a pulsating decider Saturday at a fully packed Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi.
The week-long round robin competition saw the African Queens beat neighbors Uganda 3-0 (25-16, 25-10, 25-12), Mozambique 3-0 (25-12, 25-9, 25-19), Senegal 3-1 (25-19, 25-12, 17-25 and 25-11) and Seychelles 3-0 (25-13, 25-20, 25-11) to win four of their five matches and finish second behind Tunisia who will represent the continent alongside one other nation at the World Championships set for Italy from September 23 to October 12.
Coach David Lunga’aho said her charges gave their best since they were playing against a strong side that has been a hard nut to crack for a long time as his team suffered a first ever loss to the Magreb nation in a sport they have dominated in Africa in the past decade.
“The match was good but it was not our day. Tunisia played well and has improved. The ladies had a pressure after the visitors led the final set and tension overcame them since we have been at the World Championships five times.
“There are major competitions that we will be preparing for, like the World Grand Prix that starts in July 27 in Mexico. So I hope we will register good results then,” Lung’aho told reporters after the match.
Tunisian coach Messelimani Mohamed, was elated to beat Kenya at their home turf though he said the match officials were not fair.
“The match was very hard because we needed five sets to beat Kenya and it was long time since we beat them.
“We have accomplished our mission that we came for in Nairobi and that was to qualify for the World Championship.
“We knew it will be difficult to beat them at 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 host started on a wrong footing, losing 21-25 in the first set to the North Africans, who over powered them with their spikes that saw setters Esther Wangeci and Jane Wacu fail in the blocks.
Everlyne Makuto and Ruth Chepn’getich tried to bridge the gap after calling for three technical time outs but the visitors blocks denied them.
Kenya had to struggle to win the second set 26-24 with Mercy Moim being influential despite mourning her mother who passed away two days ago.
Coach Lung’aho introduced setter Janet Wanja for Wacu as Wangeci was also substituted for Violet Makuto after poor serving.
Brik M, had to spike home to level 23-23 as Kenya called for a technical time out and came in rejuvenated to capture the second set.
The Queens overwhelmed the visitors in the third set winning 25-15 even after Tunisia led 8-6 before time out following Lengliz Maissa’s spike that saw Kenyan Libero Elizabeth Wanyama, fail to receive.
However siblings Everlyn and Violet Makuto, showed their experience to guide the home team to a second set win and force the match head to fourth set.
The visitors were at it again winning the fourth set 28-26, after Kenya had to come six points down to catch up with the North Africans 19-19, but captain Brackcides Agala, saw the ball touch in their side after she failed to receive.
Wanyama had to come for rescue on several occasion as Tunisia called for a time out with the host trailing 15-19.
Othmani Abir, served home to see Tunisia win and force the match head to the fifth set which was the decider.
Tunisia came stronger side in the last set, enabling Lung’aho to call for a technical time out with the visitors leading 8-6.
They tried to catch up with the visitors when Wangeci levelled for 8-8 but the Tunisians overpowered the host to clinch the sole spot in Pool U after a 10-15 win.