Rwanda national football team, Amavubi, host Ghana’s Black Stars today, for their biggest game in years as the two sides battle for the top spot in their Group H on the road to 2017 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon.
Ghana, who lost to Ivory Coast in the final at the Afcon 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, are a star-studded side and go into today’s game as clear favourites.
The four-time African champions have appeared at each of the last six editions of Afcon finals, reaching the final on two occasions.
Ironically, the last time Ghana failed to reach Afcon finals was because of Rwanda. In 2003, Rwanda defied the odds, dramatically sealing a place in the 2004 Afcon tournament with a 1-0 win over Black Stars having previously beaten the other group opponents Uganda.
And, in the finals in Tunisia, Rwanda fared decently, with a win, a draw and a narrow loss.
Unfortunately, while the Black Stars drew lessons from the embarrassment of missing out on the 2004 Afcon ticket and went on to build successive squads that have since made them one of the teams to beat on the continent and regulars at the World Cup, Amavubi retrogressed badly.
Successive local football administrators failed to build on the success of the 2004 campaign and instead got entangled into endless non-issues and sometimes absolutely embarrassing conduct at the expense of the national team, the highlight of which was last year’s disqualification from the 2015 qualifiers after Ferwafa sanctioned the fielding of an ineligible player.
Even as the country continued to enjoy financial support from FIFA, there has been a lack of clear policy and consistency in football development matters. For instance, where are the lads that proudly represented Rwanda at the 2011 U-17 World Cup finals in Mexico? They held so much promise and yet most of them have since fallen through the cracks.
Yet, the issue has never been a shortage of talent. Rather how to identify and harness it. Indeed, fans around the country cannot wait for a new chapter to begin. We can only go up from here. The away win against Mozambique in June was a morale booster. It showed we can still beat teams. We can beat Ghana. Football can repeat itself today. Amavubi need to believe in themselves and aim higher. They can successfully emulate the 2003/4 side. Fans should come out in numbers and support the national team.
We have the confidence that we can turn things around.
Let’s start with today’s business – beating Ghana. Go Amavubi!