Clash of the titans: Kenya face Cameroon in African Champs final
Hardly hours away to the uninitiated, the evening is probably like any other in the calendar. But September 19, 9pm, to a Kenyan volleyball fan, is anything but ordinary.
Two giants of the volleyball world will butt heads on the court, once again, in the finals of the Africa Nations Volleyball Championships here in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
Malkia Strikers has been a powerhouse on the African front for a long time and their pedigree is renowned all over Africa-with nine titles. On the other hand, the Cameroon’s Lionesses are the reigning champions and it goes without saying, they are indeed one of the best teams in the continent.
Since winning this title in Nairobi in 2015, Malkia’s luck has flown south in the previous two editions with Cameroon standing in between their unprecedented tenth crown in 2017 and 2019.
The two giants punched their way to Sunday’s final after winning their respective semis in straight sets to send a huge statement of intent between each other ahead of the showdown scheduled to start at 9pm.
Malkia Strikers were the first to come off the blocks defeating Morocco in sets of 25-12, 25-21 and 25-11, while the holders saw off Nigeria later in the same venue with sets of 25-12, 35-33 and 25-13, to set up a potentially-explosive clash.
On their way to the final, Cameroon threw down their gauntlet in the opening match of pool ‘B’ after emerging triumphant against Kenya with a resounding 3-0 win, and went ahead to win all her matches.
But Malkia Strikers head coach Paul Bitok is bullish ahead of the much-awaited final after guiding his troops to straight-sets victories in four matches on the bounce.
“I’ve met Cameroon before and we’ve won many times, so we are ready to meet them and compete for the top honours. They’re a good side and being defending champions and having not lost any match so far they’re confident and so is Malkia Strikers because my squad has improved a lot since we met them in the opening fixture,” he charged.
Bitok however blamed the pressure of expectation in the opening tie against the West Africans for inhibiting his young squad, adding that he is heading to the final with no pressure.
“We’ve already qualified for the World Championships by virtue of reaching the finals and now we will approach the finals with less pressure. High expectations in the first game against Cameroon cost us a lot because this is a team which came here with some new faces and we lacked coordination. So, I’ve told the team to play with much ease because with pressure, that would disadvantage us. It will destabilise us.”
Since taking over in June 2019, Bitok has prevailed two times in the last three matches the teams have met-at the African Games in Morocco and during the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
The fight between Malkia’s youthful roaster and Lionesses’ experienced squad will inevitably see one emerge triumphant over the other. But in the context of years – both gone and yet to come – perhaps who emerges triumphant in the eternal battle of the years might not be so clear-cut after all.