A football game is won, drawn or lost, so I am rationally certain one of the three will happen in the first Group H 2019 AFCON qualifier between Central African Republic and Rwanda on Sunday.
The feeling back home is that Amavubi can snatch an away win to start their campaign on a high at Stade Barthelemy Boganda in Bangui. It will be the first meeting between the two teams at any level.
Last weekend, Antoine Hey’s team played and won two warm-up matches against Morocco without conceding a goal—the games were to mark this year’s second edition of the Genocide memorial tournament. Rwanda won the first game 2-0 and 3-0 in the second.
Taking into consideration how Hey’s men performed, there is high optimism that they can return home from Bangui with three important points, or at worst, one.
Amavubi played the two games with a lot more confidence that many expected and winning both matches without conceding shows that Hey’s tactics are working, although they played against a not so strong Morocco side.
There is change in terms of organization on the field compared to the way the team played under Northern Irishman, Johnny McKinstry.
Preparations have been short but quite precise and effective, collectively you can see there is some change, added strength and team spirit seems to be pretty high among the players, which is a good sign to start with.
Hey’s 18-man squad is packed with experienced players, who featured in the last CHAN finals tournament held in Rwanda when Amavubi reached the quarter-finals of a major competition for the first time.
A combination of experienced players like team captain Haruna Niyonzima, Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza, Emery Bayisenge, Jacques Tuyisenge and goalkeeper Eric ‘Bakame’ Ndayishimiye alongside new names that have performed well in the domestic league such as; Emmanuel Imanishimwe, Thierry Manzi and Aimable Nsabimana, is decent squad.
In terms of the latest FIFA world rankings, Rwanda is ranked 125th, two places above Central African Republic, who are looking to qualify for the AFCON finals tournament for the first time, while Rwanda are bidding for a second appearance.
However, team tactics, individual performances as well as strategy and how well Amavubi take their chances, will be the key deciding factors. I am not sure how Hey plans to do that but I think he has mastered that given his career experience.
In Africa, every time a country misses out on a major tournament, it is counted as misfortune and huge loss and in most cases leading to sacking of coaches, loss of fiesta and support from the fans.
Amavubi’s failure to qualify in the last seven AFCON competitions is the most painful period in the history of Rwandan football.
For Hey and his players to avoid putting themselves under pressure early in the qualifying campaign, they need to get victory against the Wild Dogs, who are not such a threat.
The tiny Central Africa Republic is currently undergoing an international supervision transition and the Wild Dogs have been playing their international matches away from home for a while.
One key player that the Wild Dogs will be relying on is Malaysia-based midfielder Anzite Franklin, who plays for University of Technology Mara FC.