AS Muhanga vs Espoir FC
Etincelles vs APR FC
Gicumbi FC vs Amagaju FC
AS Kigali vs Rwamagana City
Sunrise vs Musanze FC
Marines FC vs Rayon Sports
The 2015-16 Azam Rwanda Premier League might have kicked off yesterday but defending champions APR FC begin their title defence today against Etincelles at Tam Tam Stadium in Rubavu.
However, the likes of Police FC, Rayon Sports and SC Kigali will be hoping to stop the army side from winning a record-extending 16th league title since 1995.
The new campaign promises to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons in years as all clubs have been very busy in the transfer market.
With several clubs under new coaches and all the 16 clubs signing many new players, it is hard to predict who would be champions come May 2016.
Football fans across the country are bracing for an intriguing title race, with Police and AS Kigali having closed the gap on the usual front teams APR and Rayon Sports.
Kicukiro-based and Peace Cup winner Police are hot contenders having invested heavily in 14 new players as they bid to mount a serious challenge for the title that they have not won since it was formed in 2003.
Defending champions APR play away against Etincelles, which was relegated but returned after the FERWAFA General Assembly agreed to increase the number of teams in the top flight division league to 16 from the usual 14. AS Muhanga were the other beneficiaries of that decision.
The 2013 league champions, Rayon Sports, under new head coach David Donadei, will open their campaign against their boggy opponents, Marines FC at Tam Tam Stadium. Police kicked off the season against Mukura on Friday.
APR look to defend title
After failing to defend Peace Cup last season, but, Rwanda’s most successful football club, APR will go into the new season as favourites.
However, the management of the army side will have to act fast to bring in a new head coach following the sudden departure of Serbian Dusan Dule Suljagic on Thursday.
Dusan will be followed after today’s game, by his assistant Vincent Mashami as well as goalkeeping coach Ibrahim Mugisha, who have signed permanent contracts with the national team, (Amavubi Stars) to work closely with head coach Jonny McKistry.
In the transfer window, APR signed Rwanda international central defender Faustin Usengimana and defensive midfielder Djihad Bizimana, both from archrivals Rayon Sports as well as youthful striker Bienvenue Mugenzi from Marines FC.
The record 15-time Rwandan champions will once again rely on a squad that has a mixture of youth and experience despite losing two key players namely; central defender Emery Bayisenge, who signed for Austria second division club Lask Linz FC and midfielder Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza to Tanzania giants Azam FC.
“APR’s attitude is to win trophies and I think the team is ready for the new season,” Mashami told Saturday Sport yesterday.
Police FC, the main challenger
After attaining third position finish in last season, winning the Peace Cup and Agaciro Development Fund Cup, Casa Mbungo starts the 2015/16 season hoping to guide Police to their first eve league triumph.
“All the top teams have bought new players in order to try and win the league title and we are no different, but it’s too early to start talking about winning the title right now. We will go game by game,” the former Sec Academy and AS Kigali coach noted.
The 47-year-old added that, “The players know our target this season and we will try to achieve it. We will play a collective game to ensure that Police attracts people to watch and enjoy the game.”
Having scooped the Peace Cup in 2013, everything seemed to be going according to plan for AS Kigali, says head coach, Eric Nshimiyimana and to some, the City of Kigali-sponsored club are one of the teams to watch this season.
Nshimiyimana said, “The league will be competitive; there are no easier target in the league. Every club looks to be in a good shape, but my responsibility is to take AS Kigali to a higher level where we can start to be regarded as genuine contenders every season, not just for one season.”
Meanwhile, SC Kiyovu, also under a new coach in Innocent Seninga, is another side that can’t be ruled out of teams that would be challenging for position in the top four or even higher.
Tanzanian pay television company Azam TV has pumped $2.35m to sponsor the Rwanda Premier League for the next five years.
In the first year, Azam will provide $350,000 and the amount will increase to $500,000 in the following four years. The bottom two teams will be relegated at end of the season in May.