Last year’s Peace Cup winners, AS Kigali, have become Rwanda’s Cinderella story in the football sense.
They aren’t big spenders like Police FC, or traditionally strong like APR and neither do they have a strong fan base like Rayon Sports. Yet, step by step, they have won cups, contended for the league title and are doing Rwanda proud on the continental level.
Having won the first leg of their first round tie against Al Ahly Shendi at home in the Caf Confederation Cup, AS Kigali put themselves in a good position to qualify to the second round of Africa’s second biggest club competition.
Most arguments I engaged in at the time were dominated by pessimists, who believed that the Sudanese side, with more experience in the competition, would annihilate the City of Kigali team in the second tie in Khartoum – but very wrong they were.
The Rwandan side lost the game 1-0 and the overall winners had to be decided on penalty kicks which saw the visitors prevailing 5-4. This is what happens to clubs that believe in themselves. Mind you, AS Kigali’s players are all Rwandans, so this gives hope that may be all is not lost for Rwandan football.
Andre Gasambungo, the coach of AS Kigali has maintained a philosophy to stick to home groomed talent and it is clearly paying off – in the future, AS Kigali could be the second biggest supplier of players to the national team after APR.
This season’s league kicked off with all the prime contenders well known.
Defending champions Rayon Sports had bolstered their side with new talent and seemed even stronger. APR looked like on a revenge journey after last season’s humiliation at the hands of Rayon, so, they were definitely going to be in the mix.
Another contender was Police FC-the biggest spender in the transfer window, with a zealous and often controversial Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa.
But from nowhere emerged AS Kigali, who stormed to the summit of the league and remained atop for the better part of the first leg before the inevitable happened as normal order resumed when both Rayon and APR hit them off the patch.
AS Kigali enjoyed some memorable wins over APR and Police that cemented its place in the top four; and even if their chances of taking the league title were and remain slim, their breathtaking self belief has been the strongest highlight this season.
Success in continental competitions has been a dry land for Rwanda, consolidated with poor performances by the so called big clubs like APR and Rayon Sports year after year.
AS Kigali’s triumph over Ahly Shendi was the first time a local club reached the second round of this competition. It is only the second time that AS Kigali has participated in the tournament, the last time being in 2002.
Had Rayon Sports showed the same zeal, Rwanda could still be represented in the more lucrative Caf Champions League – instead, they were eliminated by Congolese side AS Leopards in the strangest and most annoying way possible.
That said, while AS Kigali will continue to be treated as the underdog from this stage onwards – and they will have to do miracles to shrug off the tag, but they can use the label to surprise their opponents one by one. Watch this space.
This brings as to a very important point. Talent is nothing without focus and teamwork. Rayon Sports is all round more endowed than AS Kigali and yet, it is the latter that is enjoying continental success.
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