Why Rwanda is a footballing nation

Striker Meddie Kagere celebrates his goal during the AFCON 2019 qualifier against Ivory Coast at Kigali Stadium on September 9. Sam Ngendahimana.

In 2011, Rwanda’s U-17 football team was well prepared and that paid off with a qualification to the youth World Cup finals in Mexico.

But the players were left isolated thereafter and what was meant to be a solid foundation of the national football team died a natural death.

First forward to August 2018, Yves Rwasamanzi was tasked to assemble Rwanda’s U17 football team in less than two weeks for the CECAFA-CAF U17 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying tournament in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. He improvised, went around different clubs practically begging for junior players and managed to put together an 18-member squad. 

The team went all the way to the semifinals and ended up finishing fourth.   

I gather other regional teams had prepared for at least two months.

On October 29, Jimmy Mulisa was announced as Amavubi U23 head coach and was tasked to deliver in two weeks. A day after his appointment, the U23 boys were assembled for a two-week residential training ahead of their game against the giants of DR Congo.

Mulisa and his team still managed to get a draw.

The Congolese crossed Petit and Grand barrier in full swing, took over the Rubavu-based Umuganda stadium at the border town of DR Congo and what was meant to be a home game for the young wasps ended up looking like an away game for our youngsters!

No one should lie to you that Rwanda is short of football talent or that one day Rwandans will give up on their national team and start supporting the rising England or turn to neighbours DR Congo or Uganda. Speaking of neighbours Burundi and Kenya are also doing better than us.   

But there is not a simple place around the east African region where a derby match is watched by a packed stadium, save for Simba vs Yanga in Tanzania.

Yet that’s what happens here when Rayon Sports plays APR FC.

That should inform whoever is in charge of football development that Rwanda is not short of talent, not short of soccer passion; and Rwandan soccer fans and players deserve better from our football administrators.

In the AFCON 2019 qualifying campaign, Rwanda Football Federation (FERWAFA) confirmed Vincent Mashami as the head coach of national senior football team for a period of one-year. He immediately named a 32-man squad for the Cote d’Ivoire AFCON tie.

The match took place on September 9 and Cote d’Ivoire won 2-1 courtesy of strikes from Aston Villa forward Jonathan Adjo Kodjia and Toulouse captain Max-Alain Gradel.

Amavubi’s consolation was scored by the returning Meddie Kagere. 

Is that the result you expect from a team that had not played a game together since June 2017?

To me, our boys did us proud despite losing to Cote d’Ivoire, losing away to Naby Keita’s Guinea before the two sides played out a draw in Kigali, and then drawing to Central African Republic thanks to the last minute header from towering Valencia midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia.

Throughout this painful campaign, our boys played good football.

They never stopped enjoying the game and never stopped dreaming.

Against CAR on Sunday, Abdul Rwatubyaye, 23, gave his all; putting in man-of-the-match performance with probably Jacques Tuyisenge, 27, the scorer of both of Amavubi’s goals, deserving of more applause.

Tuyisenge showed why he is the star of the Kenyan premier league.

Andrew Butera, 24, was finally handed his first start in as many international call-ups and he showed why I am his big fan.

The boy had fantastic display against CAR should no longer be Amavubi’s unsung hero.

It’s not so often that you will find a brilliant game reader, a disciplined midfielder and humble player all in one person. He just needs the trust of Mashami and whoever else cares. With Butera and Djihadi Bizimana, 22, in the offensive midfield role, Amavubi will be a team to beat for the next decade. 

My managing editor, James Munyaneza, put it so well; “No one will be more disappointed than the boys. They gave their all, were brave, & played good football Vs some of the best sides on the continent. But they were simply improvising. We did not give them the support they needed. No preparations. No nothing.”

We could have easily won our home games, if we had enough time to prepare. 

The boys created chance after chance. On Sunday they played some entertaining football only to lose concentration in the dying minutes. Why, you ask? Because they didn’t prepare enough.

Remedies

Don’t let talents slumber. It was painful to see Emery Bayisenge watching from the stands while his best central defensive partner Abdul Rwatubyaye suffered literally alone on the pitch.

Why can’t FERWAFA intervene in his situation?

Have faith in our boys. They’ve got talent. Give them time and resources to shine.

Give Mashami job assurance. He signed a one-year contract, what happens after?

Indeed, under him we’ve lost twice and drawn twice. But also Mashami has given us a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing given a long-term deal and backed in a long overdue rebuilding plan.

He is our own Gareth Southgate!

Like Munyaneza wrote, do this and we’ll be back in AFCON in 2023.

That said, goodbye to now former APR Coach Ljubo Petrovic. It is a shame illness has forced him out of the job he loved so much and I appreciate him for trusting young players during his time at APR.

I wish him good health! 

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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