Lausanne, Switzerland, February 12, 2014 - When
Egypt’s volleyball stars returned to Cairo a good hour after midnight with their
ticket to the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014, which was
achieved at the tournament in Kenya, they were greeted by a large reception
As well as thrilled fans and family, high-ranking representatives from the country’s Ministry of Sport, the National Olympic Committee and, of course, the national volleyball federation had also turned up to show their appreciation. Volleyball is one of the most successful and popular sports in the land of the pyramids. Only last year did the Pharaohs – as the national team is known – claim its fifth consecutive African crown and seventh in total.
This was just one sign of the huge importance that the team’s successful qualification is for the country. The FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014 will take place from August 30 to September 21.
Egypt is currently going through a difficult period, and the national volleyball team provided a perfect example of how it is still possible to overcome even the greatest of difficulties. Having previously competed at the prestigious FIVB event on seven occasions - 1974, 1978, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 – the team qualified for the fifth time in a row courtesy of a flawless 4-0 record. Egypt also became the first African team to secure its ticket to this season’s highlight event.
The performance is all the more incredible, given the fact that six of
the best and most experienced Egyptian volleyball stars were missing at the
qualifying tournament. Negotiations with their clubs to allow them to join the
team failed, as did attempts to change the date of the qualifying tournament. Among those missing were Ahmed Salah, the top spiker in the 2011
World Cup, setter Abdallah Abdelsalam, the
best server in the world at the 2005 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup,
and Mohamed Badawy one of the best receiving
players on the team.
With the tournament staged in Kenya and not Egypt, as was originally considered, the hot favourites travelled to the qualifying tournament in Kenya with just one playmaker and a significantly weakened team. The Pharaohs arrived in Nairobi four days prior to their opening match, in order to acclimatise to the altitude of over 1,600 metres. Their early arrival paid off as Egypt faced hosts Kenya first in what many anticipated as the decisive game. However, the Egyptians withstood this test of character in front of 5,100 passionate fans, calling on all their experience gained at such prestigious events as the FIVB World League to come through 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 20-25, 25-20).
“You have to excuse the Kenyan team because they were playing Egypt, a team with a lot of experience,” commented Egyptian head coach, Nour Attia. Gideon Chenje, Kenya’s men's volleyball coach, threw in the towel after that opening defeat: “I do not believe we have a chance, as I don’t think Egypt will lose any of their remaining three matches.” And he was proven right. Egypt did indeed book their ticket to the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship with 3-0 victories against Zambia, Botswana and Cape Verde. The team finished in first position with a win-loss ratio of 4-0, followed by Kenya with a record of 3-1. Botswana ended their campaign in third place (2-2), while Cape Verde finished fourth (1-3) ahead of Zambia (0-4).
“We were the favourites coming into the tournament and we expected to qualify for the World Championship,” said Egypt captain Saleh Youssef, already looking ahead to the highlight of the season. “After this, the big challenge is to make our mark at the World Championship in Poland.” The team’s best result in its previous seven outings came in 2010, when they produced one of the strongest performances by an African country, finishing 13th in Italy. The Pharaohs went out in the second round after defeating Iran, but narrowly missing out to Japan.
At the forthcoming championships in Poland, the Egyptians look likely to play in the strong Group C in Danzig, which could potentially include Olympic champions Russia, Bulgaria, Canada, China and a team from the NORCECA confederation. However, that will only be the case if the best-placed African team in the world rankings, Tunisia, qualifies as expected.
Tunisia is both the host and hot favourite at its qualifying tournament, scheduled to take place from March 2 to 8, when they will battle it out against Seychelles, Congo Brazzaville, Senegal and Niger for a ticket to the World Championship. The destination of the third African ticket will be decided in Cameroon in the coming days. The hosts will take on Algeria, Nigeria, Rwanda and Gabon from February 12 to 18.
Kenya will also host the women’s contest for the African tickets to the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Italy 2014, as Nairobi welcomes Seychelles, Uganda, Tunisia, Senegal, Mozambique and Cape Verde from February 16 to 23. The conclusion of the tournament in Kenya will pave the way for the next qualification round, which will see Algeria host Botswana, Ghana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Egypt in Pool T from February 23 to March 2. Africa will be represented by two women’s teams in the FIVB Volleyball Women World Championship, which will be held from September 23 to October 12.
Of the 24 teams taking part in the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship, 17 have now already been confirmed: Bulgaria, Serbia, Germany, Belgium, Finland and France qualified at the beginning of this year. They are joined by hosts Poland, Olympic champions Russia and Italy (Europe), Australia, Iran, China and Korea (Asia), and Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil (South America). Countries in the NORCECA confederation will take part in four qualifying tournaments (each with four teams) scheduled for May and June in the USA, Cuba, Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as a continental play-off from July 9 to 14.
With their ticket to the World Championships in the bag, the Pharaohs are already on the safe side.