I couldn’t agree more with Richard Tardy when he emphasised the need to start preparing the junior teams immediately for the next qualifiers for continental championships.
Early and thorough preparations can pay off handsomely as we saw with last year’s U-17 team and by now we ought to have known the merits of doing groundwork in earnest. Talk of reaping what you sowed!
For a decade I have been not only writing about sports in the country but also following it closely, and for that long, so many things have changed, leaders have come and gone but one thing has remained constant—people not learning from past mistakes.
When the government invested hundreds of millions of tax-payers’ money into the U-17 team, we saw the dividends it paid off—the team not only reached the final of the African Youth Championships staged in Kigali, but also qualified for the Fifa World Cup in Mexico in 2011.
As hosts, Rwanda may have been lucky not to go through the hectic qualifying campaign, but being the home team is recipe for success without putting in hard work in terms of preparing the team and put on the same level as their opponents or even above, who went through the qualifying.
The success of that team, which is now the U-20 side, opened people’s eyes to the reality that youth development systems, when handled properly, could lead the country to the top albeit gradually.
At a time when fans and stakeholders, including President Kagame had lost faith in the senior Amavubi team due to consistent failures and underperformances, the junior wasps rewetted their fading love for local football, especially the national team(s).
History will have it that Rwanda was the first country from East and Central Africa to play at the Fifa World Cup, let no one make a mistake about, but that said, the key question is, what happed after?
The U-20 struggled to reproduce the form from the U-17 level and failed to qualify for the 2013 continental championship. And also the current U-17 team found the qualifying campaign a different type of kettle to entering the tournament as host team.
And even though some of the players from Mexico World Cup have graduated to the senior team, question marks still hang above their heads regarding whether they are good enough to compete at the highest level against the very best.
After Rwanda won the rights to host the 2011 African U-17 Youth Championships following the success of staging the U-20 version in 2009, both Ferwafa and the government (sports ministry) did everything possible to make sure the team was ready for the event and it turned out exactly like that.
The team was together for more than a year and when the world cup ticket was won, the government left no stone unturned in a bid to prepare the team to world cup standards—we saw the team holding training camps in London, Germany and USA en-route to Mexico.
However, the current junior team has just failed to qualify for the next continental edition in Morocco after losing to Botswana in the second qualifying round not because they are a bad team but because they didn’t get enough preparation for the (qualifying) campaign.
As a disappointed Tardy asserted in the aftermath of failing to overcome a not so-good Botswana side, the team was ill-prepared for the task and it appeared as though Ferwafa and the government didn’t bother much about whether the team qualifies or not.
Even their claims that Botswana used overage players appear to be more of a last-ditch effort to save face than a genuine case to have the South African team eliminated by CAF.
If only the government had invested just a fraction of the total budget spent on the 2011 team to prepare the current team, trust me we wouldn’t be here talking about trying our luck with CAF but instead discussing how to stop either Sudan or Algeria in the final qualifying round.
It’s a shame that barely a year after making all the right headlines, both the U-20 and U-17 team bowed out of major competitions in quick succession and the senior Amavubi team not anyone’s favourite to make miracles in their 2014 World Cup qualifying group.
To reiterate Tardy’s call, there is need to start preparing for the 2015 African Youth Championships immediately rather than wait to do things so late as if we can’t ever learn from past mistakes—or if not that, at least we should learnt from the few success stories.