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World Championship: Malkia Strikers pray for a miracle against Puerto Rico

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 Kenya's Veronica Adhiambo reacts during their 2022 FIVB World Championship match against Italy in Arnhem, Netherlands on Thursday. [FIVB]

Kenya is on course for historic FIVB World Championship second round qualification as they take on Puerto Rico in their last preliminary match today in Arnhem, Netherlands.

Both teams must win the match that serves off at 5pm in order to secure their places in the second round, where they will join group A leaders Italy, Belgium and Netherlands.

Any team that slip up in today's match will be eliminated and prepare to get the next flight back home as the winner remains in the Netherlands for more matches.

On Thursday night, Malkia Strikers gave a good account of themselves before losing to the European champions Italy 3-0 (25-15, 25-23, 25-17) while Puerto Rico stopped African champions Cameroon 3-0 (25-23, 25-16, 25-11) to set up a crunch match this afternoon.

Kenya coach Luizomar de Moura assisted by Paul Bitok made a tactical decision to rest captain Mercy Moim and Edith Wisa probably to keep them fresh for today's must-win encounter.

Instrumental opposite hitter Sharon Chepchumba, who is the highest scorer for Malkia in the tournament so far, led from the front with a game-high 17 points.

Kenya Pipeline attacker Veronica Adhiambo, who made her debut in 3-0 win over Cameroon on Tuesday night, had eight points while Sylvia Nwakalor replied for the Italians with 12 points.

"We rested Wisa and Moim so that we can come in full force on Saturday (today). We did not want to have all the energy concentrated on the Italy match. We have been planning to beat Cameroon and Puerto Rico. We are through with Cameroon and it is the turn of Puerto Rico to get the beating," said Bitok.

"We asked the players to remain more focused on Saturday's match and I am optimistic we shall make history by advancing to the next round."

Bitok further said that the team has been getting valuable lessons as the tournament progresses.

Chepchumba said she was pleased with the junior players' performance on Thursday.

"We had superb attacks and blocks. We need to extend the good show to Saturday's match," said Chepchumba.

"If we execute good services and receives, then we shall win the match and advance to the second round."

It will be interesting to see how the Kenyans fare against Puerto Rican legend Karina Ocasio.

Ocasio, 37, has played in the last six World Championships for her team for over 20 years.

But for Moim, they want to write history with the East African nation.

"We are not in the Netherlands as tourists but to make it to the second round," she said in an earlier interview.

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