Kenya and Cameroon are aiming to make history at the Women’s Volleyball World Championship, which kicked off in the Netherlands on Friday.
Both teams are aiming for a place in the second round, which no African team has ever achieved before.
Yet they are also eager to seize the opportunity to learn and grow, as they come up against the best in the world.
“It’s a great opportunity for our team to compete at such a good level – we will try to break the ceiling in the future,” Brazilian Kenya coach Luizomar de Moura told BBC Sport Africa.
He was speaking after the Malkia Strikers lost in straight sets 3-0 (25-11; 25-17; 25-11) to co-hosts Holland on the opening night of the tournament.
“The level of the competition will be really high and today we were playing the home team,” coach De Moura said after the game.
“For the ladies, playing against the best players in the world will be a great opportunity to learn from this kind of experience.”
The match was played in a noisy atmosphere, with a packed crowd inside the Gelredome – normally the home of Eredivisie football team Vitesse Arnhem.
But the young Kenyan side handled the conditions well, brought together by De Moura and veteran Kenyan captain Mercy Moim, in a tournament co-hosted by the Netherlands and Poland.
Moim, who has been on the team for 15 years at the African and World Championships and most recently at the Tokyo Olympics, says her role now is to help develop the next generation of players.
“I’m like their mother,” Moim told the BBC. “If you’re a mother, you have to be in a good position to teach them.
“To be on time for training, [to] respect even the youngest player, from young player to senior players, even coaches.
“You have to respect everyone you meet, that’s how you learn and how you stay in volleyball for many years.”
African rivalry on the world stage
Taking responsibility is something Cameroonian Emelda Piata Zessi says she is also starting to do.
Four years ago she faced players who had been her idols when she made her tournament debut, but the 25-year-old expects a different experience at Netherlands-Poland 2022.
First, she knows that Cameroon’s young fans look to her for inspiration, and at the same time, she says she has an “obligation” to use her experience to help the young players in her team.
“There’s more pressure on us because we’re supposed to carry the team, so it’s a bit different from when I wasn’t the most experienced player,” she said.
“Our team is made up of 80% young girls, so one of the objectives is to develop them, to give them more experience and to ensure that they arrive at the same level as us. match, they have to learn new things.”
Kenya and Cameroon are perennial continental rivals.
The pair have faced each other in the final of the last five African continental competitions – with Cameroon winning three African Championships in a row and Kenya winning the last two African Games competitions.
They are in the same pool at Netherlands-Poland 2022, which means they are in direct competition for a place in the next stage.
Even the World Championship website picks their Tuesday night clash as one of the highlights of the first round.
The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Puerto Rico are the other four teams in their group. Both teams therefore see victory against their continental rival as a major step towards qualification.
But Kenya captain Moim said that despite the rivalry, the two teams do not know each other at all at present.
“Cameroon have so many new players, and also in Kenya we have new players,” she said.
“Maybe I know three players in Cameroon – it’s a new team, [and] my team is new. So we have to make sure that we watch their games more before we play against them.”
Cameroonian Zessi knows that focusing too much on the game against Kenya would be a mistake.
“We didn’t come here for Kenya, we came here to compete, to get more experience, to learn and have fun,” she said.
A total of 24 teams are competing in the 2022 World Championship, with the second round featuring two groups of eight before the top four from each advance to the quarter-finals.
The final will take place in Apeldoorn on October 15.