RAYON Sports may have become the first Rwandan club to reach group stages in a CAF competition, but more milestones can be achieved with the right mindset.
The reigning national champions start their CAF Confederation Cup campaign on May 6, against Kenyan giants Gor Mahia in their first Group D game.
The group also includes Tanzania’s Young Africans and USM Algiers of Algeria.
While most football fanatics and sports pundits across the country are convinced Rayon has been drawn in a relatively easy group, coach Ivan Minneart and his team should not be deceived. On the contrary, it should be a motivation to work harder and play to the best of their abilities.
According to reports in Kenya, Tanzania and Algeria, all the other Group D teams are also jubilating the fair draw they got. With each of the four opponents hopeful to make it out of the group stage, the only difference will be how much work and determination they will put into preparing for the matches.
For the Blues to progress, they will need at least 10 out of a possible maximum 18 points. “Not an easy feat” but Belgian-born technician Minneart is confident that can be pulled off.
“The least we want to do is win all our home games, then fight hard for draws in away fixtures. It is exciting having reached this far but we can achieve a lot more if we remain focused and work even harder.” Minneart told Saturday Sport in an interview.
“All the players are fit and determined. We need to work on mental preparedness and more research on our opponents, we will do everything that needs to be done to advance to quarter-finals. It will definitely not come easy, but, it is possible.” He further added.
Apart from USM Algiers who started the continental campaign in the Confederation Cup, the rest of teams joined the competition after elimination from the CAF Champions League’s first round.
Young Africans were eliminated by Botswana’s Township Rollers FC, Gor Mahia were seen off by giants Esperance de Tunis of Tunisia while Rayon Sports got knocked-off by former African champions Mamelodi Sundwons of South Africa.
To advance to group stages, Rayon sent off Costa do Sol of Mozambique, Gor Mahia eliminated South African SuperSport United, USM Algiers sent packing Nigeria’s Plateau United while Young Africans brushed aside Welayta Dicha of Ethiopia.
The 8-time Rwandan champions have more than just a ticket to quarter-finals to fight for, a good chuck of money is also there to be won. Should the sole Rwandan side remaining in thw CAF competitions survive the group stage, they will pocket Rwf 304M (U$D 350,000) from the African football governing body, to help them prepare for the next round.
How do Rayon compare to their Group D opponents?
Also commonly known as K’Ogalo, is Kenya’s most successful club with a record 16 league titles, three more than bitter arch-rivals AFC Leopards. They
Gor Mahia, which boosts a couple of Rwandan internationals Jacques Tuyisenge and Meddie Kagere, remains the only team from Kenya and the CECAFA region to win an African continental title to date, having won the African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1987 after previously reaching the final in 1979.
Founded in 1968 as a merger of two sides Luo Union and Luo Sports Club, Gor Mahia has won the regional CECAFA championship three times (1981, 1982 and 1985), compared to Rayon Sports who claimed it once, in 1998.
Nonetheless, the Kenyan champions have no notable history in CAF Confederation Cup. The highest stage they had been to is the first round, in 2013. However, the club reached quarter-finals of the Champions league (formers African Cup of Champions clubs) in 1993.
Locally known as Yanga, Young Africans Sports Club is the most successful Tanzanian football club with a total 27 league titles. The club has also secured several other international trophies, among others five CECAFA Kagame Cup titles and three first runners-up accolades.
The Yellow, Green and Black outfits who are playing group stages in the CAF Confederation Cup for a second time after the 2016 debut, host their home games at the 60,000-seater Tanzanian National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.
The Tanzanian side, one of the East African giants, have also been to CAF Champions League eleven times, having managed to reach group stages once, in 1998.
Currently coached by Zambian tactician George Lwandamina, Young Africans 30-player squad for the 2017/2018 season includes 25 nationals and 5 foreign players; two Zimbabweans, one Zambian, one Burundian and one Cameroonian.
Union sportive de la médina d’Alger, or simply USM Algiers in short, is a football club based in the city of Algiers. Founded in 1937, USM Algiers host their home at Omar a 12,000-seater Hamadi Stadium is one of the most respected football clubs in Algeria.
The club has one of Algeria’s most prominent football charts, having won the Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1 seven times, the Algerian Cup eight times and the Algerian Super Cup twice. Internationally, USM Alger has won UAFA Club Championship once, the 2013 edition.
The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) ranked the USM Algiers in the 18th place of the best African teams of the decade 2001-2010. Five years later, the club reached the final of the 2015 CAF Champions League but he lost to TP Mazembe of DR Congo.
The Algerian side, already regarded by many as Group D giants, are playing the CAF Confederation Cup for third a time. Like Rayon Sports, they are reaching the group stage in the competition for the very first time. At the 2013, they were eliminated in the second round.
With an approximation of 60% all football fans in the country, Rayon Sports is one of Rwanda’s oldest football clubs and the second most successful behind traditional arch-rivals APR.
Among other major titles in their trophy cabinet, Rayon Sports have won eight league titles, nine Peace Cup (formerly Rwanda Cup) titles, one CECAFA Kagame Cup in 1998 and the Kigali 100 Years’ Anniversary Cup in 2007.
In CAF competitions, The Blues have been to Champions League seven times and are playing the Confederation Cup for a fourth time. However, they are enjoying the milestone of reaching the group stage for a historic first time this season.
The club’s current 24-man squad is comprised of sixteen Rwandans, three Burundians, one Ugandan, one Malian, one Cameroonian and one Nigerian respectively.
Rayon will start the quest for ticket to quarter-finals on May 6, hosting Gor Mahia in Kigali before travelling to Tanzania to face Young Africans on May 16 and wrapping up the first-half of group stages against USM Algiers on July 18 in Kigali before heading to Algeria for the return-leg tie on July 29.
Ivan Minneart’s men will take on Gor Mahia on August 18 in Kenya before playing their final group encounter against Young Africans, on August 29 in Kigali.