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Bitok-led Rwanda thump wobbly Kenya in Zone V qualifiers



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Perhaps it’s time Paul Bitok returned home.

The celebrated former Kenya international on Tuesday guided Rwanda to a comfortable 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 26-24) win over Kenya at the Kasarani Indoor Arena and in the process quashed the hosts’ hopes of qualifying for the 2019 African Games.

Kenya, who now have two points, can only finish second even if they beat Egypt in straight sets on Wednesday at Kasarani.

Earlier at the same venue, Egypt ensured they remained top with a 3-1 (25-17, 15-25, 25-14, 25-20) win over Uganda.

The North Africans, who have six points, now need only a point against Kenya to book a slot in the 2019 Africa Games to be held in Morocco in August.

This result is a timely reminder that the standards of men’s volleyball in Kenya are still ages behind. To put into perspective, Rwanda twice came from behind to claim the crucial second and third sets with Bitok the mastermind on the touchline.

“I feel sorry for Kenya. I’m always emotional whenever I play against them and unfortunately today I beat them,” Bitok was quick to apologise in his post-match address.

Trailing 8-4 in the first technical timeout of the second set, Bitok sent in reserve setter Sylvester Ndayisaba, Yves Mutabazi and withdrew Lawrence Yakan and Ivan Nsabimana.

Kenya, seeking a way back into the game, clung to their advantage leading 16-11 in the second technical timeout and Bitok summoned Nsabimana back into the court.

“In a tournament like this you have to prepare more than eight players. I have two good opposite players in my team, Yves and Yakan, so I had to be clever on how to use them. I’m happy Yves did well as an outside hitter,” Bitok explained his game plan.

And it worked. The gap reduced to 21-18 and soon afterwards it was 22-22. Then Yakan carried them to the tape delivering the set at 25-23. Rwanda was now 2-0 up and they never looked back.

“I have trained most of these Kenyan players at a young age so I know they are not good receivers. We had to destabilise their reception to ensure they played on the outside.”

“I want to urge Kenyans to give their players a chance to play in Europe because local competitions are not enough to improve our standards. I have three players based in Europe and one in Japan. You could see the difference,” added Bitok.

Kenya coach Moses Epoloto tweaked his first six introducing Bonfentry Wekesa for Nicholas Matui in the third. Noah Bett took over the libero duties from Sam Juma but then setter Brian Melly lost his cool.

Towards the tail end, Melly and Juma returned on court but there was no respite as Mutabazi quashed any hopes of Kenya picking a point with a stunning ace and the dream was gone. The electronic scoreboard read 26-24 in favour of the visitors who lifted their Turkey-based star shoulder high in celebration.

“It’s over,” admitted Epoloto as he struggled to explain what befell his side.

“We didn’t get our finishing right. Our attack didn’t click when it mattered most. Psychologically, Rwanda had an edge over us since we fumbled in crucial moments,” he added.

“We have a young team and we live to fight another day.”

Rwanda 3-0 Kenya (26-24, 25-23, 26-24)

Egypt 3-1 Uganda (25-17, 15-25, 25-14, 25-20)

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