APR vs Rayon Sports: Rwanda's El Classico

First time tourists to Rwanda will find this Sunday very fascinating. For a country that is usually calm and serene, this Sunday is set to rupture with youthful euphoria, moreover, for an activity that Rwanda is little known for - football.

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Ivan R Mugisha

First time tourists to Rwanda will find this Sunday very fascinating. For a country that is usually calm and serene, this Sunday is set to rupture with youthful euphoria, moreover, for an activity that Rwanda is little known for – football.

From every street corner, all radios will be tuned to the same channel, and hadn’t it been for an ongoing broadcasting feud, all TVs in the country would also be channeled to the same frequency.

Thousands will throng the Amahoro National Stadium as early as midday, just to make sure that they get the best seats for a game that will kick off at 6pm and those who do not know what will be going on, it will appear like some sort of pilgrimage when they see thousands of people walking in the same direction on the usually neat-as-a-new-pin streets.

This is a game that brings the best out of Rwandan football – when two giants lock horns, everything is at stake. It’s more than just three points. It is a fight for life itself.

Rayon Sports have had their share of historic wins over Armée Patriotique Rwandaise (APR) FC, but the army side have habitually had the last laugh – with a majestic 14 league titles, 8 Rwanda Cup titles and 3 Cecafa titles.

Rayon Sports are bitter at such statistics which dwarf their own accomplishments of 7 league titles, 8 Rwanda Cup titles and one Cecafa title.

Rayon Sports fans took this rivalry to another level last August in the Cecafa Cup. After losing to APR on penalties in the semi finals, it wasn’t over yet for Rayon Sports.

Their fans flocked Nyamirambo stadium to support APR’s opponents, El Merreikh in the final. When APR was beaten by the Sudanese side, you could sense satisfaction on the faces of many Rayon Sports fans.

Both clubs boast of top quality talent probably the best in the country, and are by far the two most popular clubs.

Rayon swank two of the league’s most inform players – Peter Otema and Djihad Bizimana – while APR’s ruthless engine is manned by take-no-prisoners defender Emery Bayisenge, teenage sensation striker Bernabe Mubumbyi and dazzling left winger Jean Claude Iranzi, among other top players.

They have also been sizzling at the start to the 2014/15 season and share the same points, after losing none of their first four matches. This adds a spark to the rivalry – whichever side triumphs in the derby tomorrow will tear away and own first spot.

However, it is tough to predict which side will win; after all, they have both defied their challenges to emerge top. With Rayon having to adjust to a bulk of new players coming in and having no permanent coach at the moment, they have still managed to impress.

On the other hand, APR have had to outsmart their opponents by tussling through a growing number of injuries to the senior squad.

That said, Rayon will definitely look to exploiting the injury hit army side, whose coach, Ljubomir Petrovic, seemed worried about the size of his squad in an interview. Whether he was playing mind games or not, I can’t tell.

What I am pretty sure of is that on Sunday night at about 8pm, the streets will be littered with both tears of joy and cries of agony.

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