Last week, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) voted to expand the number of national teams participating in the Africa Cup of Nations finals tournament from 16 to 24.
Besides the expansion, the competition dates were changed from January and February to June and July, the decision will take effect at the next edition in Cameroon, in 2019.
However, the concern for Amavubi fans without a doubt will remain; can the team qualify for the next competition, now that the number of teams has been increased, or perhaps what are the positives for Rwanda from the new changes?
Well, national head coach Antoine Hey thinks the expansion is good for Amavubi, nonetheless he is aware of the fact that his team still needs to win more games, especially at home if Rwanda is to qualify.
“It is good for us but again it will be even harder, we need to prepare and be ready to win more matches, which will qualify us. We still have more qualification games but now our immediate focus is on the CHAN qualifiers,” the German told Saturday Sport.
Rwanda last qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004, and since then, the last 12 years have all ended in only disappointments.
But then with the new changes to the qualification system, it is still early to say that the Wasps have a chance to qualify to Cameroon 2019. Already the team lost their opening qualifier against Central African Republic 2-1 in June.
Former Amavubi coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, who tried but failed to qualify Rwanda, is critical of the radical expansion—he believes that Africa has bowed to ‘pressure from Europe’.
Micho, who this week, resigned as Uganda Cranes coach to take over at South African side, Orlando Pirates, does not believe the changes will benefit teams or players. The Serbian led Uganda to the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon – the Cranes’ first appearance at the finals in 39 years.
“It has been so tough to qualify for AFCON with 16 teams and indeed only deserving teams could make it,” he told Peril of Africa, adding “The Congress and the people who made the changes I am sure have looked at the marketing and money side of the tournament more than the quality.”
Supporters of the changes say that moving the tournament will make African players more attractive in the transfer market as they will not have to leave their respective clubs midseason, but Sredojevic says he does not “buy into some of these theories.”
While Micho thinks otherwise, former AS Kigali, Police and Sunrise FC coach Andre Cassa Mbungo is certain the positives outweigh the negatives.
“The fact that the standards remain high and that facilities especially playing grounds – are not hampered by factors such as weather, the changes will open up a new chapter for African players and the teams such as Rwanda,” Mbungo says.
Mbungo further says that the changes are welcome since the Europe-based players will be able to concentrate on doing well in their clubs, and hopefully carry the form to the national teams, in addition, it will give them the confidence not to lose their places at their respective clubs as result of jetting off in January for AFCON.
What is clear about the expansion is that it will help to ensure and improve relations between the local football bodies including, FERWAFA and the foreign clubs.
At least, the misunderstandings and arguments will now cease to take a high toll because European clubs have always complained when their star players head out for international games in the middle of the season.
For Premier English clubs, it is a thumb up, but realistically the changes made to the competition will, of course, make it stiffer and tougher to emerge from the qualifying rounds.
For Rwanda, they will have to play and win more qualifying matches and will also need to put in serious hard work if they’re to qualify for the 2019 finals.