While the national football team (Amavubi) enjoyed a successful 2014, superseding any imaginations, 2015 will be a defining year that will make or break the Amavubi.
It has been eight months since Rwanda was banned from the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations group stage qualifiers but the wounds are yet to heal and they don’t seem to show any signs of healing.
Turning a new page in the shadow of a catastrophe that has since changed the football decision making in this country, was never a calculated move but it was the right and only available one.
However, a rise in the Fifa world rankings that has pushed Rwanda to a historic 64th position is what seems to be keeping everyone hopeful of a new dawn, one that brings the youngest national team coach on the African continent on board.
Unlike his predecessor Stephen Constantine who unexpectedly lifted the nation’s hopes, wowing journalists with every team selection and handing uncapped players their first Amavubi call-ups, Johnny McKinstry comes in at a time when expectations have already skyrocketed.
Constantine took over the Amavubi in May 2014, a side that had netted just one goal, against Eritrea in the group stages of the 2013 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya losing to the hosts and eventual winners in the quarter-finals and turned this same side into achievers.
The 3-0 win against Libya, reigning Chan champions in Kigali in the first round of the Afcon 2015 qualifiers was a tale that would begin the ascendancy of a very determined side that never conceded a goal at home in 2014.
However, the ban on naturalized players from featuring for the Amavubi has had its toll as well. Rwanda has only scored one goal since, a Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza strike against Tanzania in a friendly game for the U-23 sides as part of preparations for the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympic qualifiers next month.
Two goalless draws against Morocco and Burundi in November and December last year respectively are further confirmation that the Amavubi will miss the attacking options provided by the naturalized players such as Dady Birori who scored a hat-trick against Libya, Jérôme Sina, Jimmy Mbaraga, Meddie Kagere and Peter Otema.
However, in Amavubi captain Haruna Niyonzima, Jean Claude Iranzi, Andrew Buteera, Michel Ndahinduka, Isaie Songa, Isaac Muganza, Djihad Bizimana and Ernest Sugira, McKinstry has a good lot of creative minds who can deliver the goods. However, like he said at his unveiling press conference on Monday, this will take time.
In his own words, “My motivations of coming to work with Ferwafa and the Amavubi national team are very clear. When I was looking for an opportunity, I wanted something that will be challenging because I am someone who always loves to take on a challenge, but also something that brings potential for success.”
“For me, I looked at the opportunity here in Rwanda and said it will require a lot of hard work from me and many other people but I see the beginning of something.
“I think there are foundations that have already been laid, I have looked around in terms of facilities, the association and staff that are already here, and the ones that are to be appointed, they are the seeds of something to grow. For me, I see great potential,” the Irishman noted.
The international friendly match against Zambia on March 29 in Lusaka will provide the threshold for what to expect as McKinstry prepares Rwanda for Chan in our backyard.