The first half of the 2017/18 Azam Rwanda Premier League season was officially wrapped on April 28 with defending champions Rayon Sports leading the table with 30 points.
The league will return on April 14.
Coaches of the top four sides, Ivan Mineart of Rayon Sports, Eric Nshimiyimana of AS Kigali, Andre Casa Mbungo of SC Kiyovu, and Ljubomir Petrovic of APR have all admitted that the race for the title is becoming tighter than it has ever been.
Rayon Sports finished the first half of the Azam Rwanda Premier League at the top of the table standings with 30 points, one ahead of second-placed AS Kigali and two ahead of third and fourth placed SC Kiyovu and APR FC.
It’s safe to say that the contest for the league title is still alive considering that only four points separate leaders Rayon and their archrivals APR, who are in fourth place.
Rayon Sports have won nine games, lost three and drew another three, while they have scored 21 goals and conceded nine. Second-placed AS Kigali managed to win eight games, lost five and drew on two occasions. AS Kigali are the highest scoring side with 31 goals.
The whipping boys of the league are bottom side Gicumbi who conceded a whopping 25 goals in the first round of the season, followed by Miroplast (22), Amagaju (22), Marines (22), Kirehe (20) and Espoir (18).
Fifth-based Sunrise FC are seven points behind Rayon Sports, while sixth-placed Police are behind a further eight points behind the leaders. Etincelles are in 7th with 21 points, followed by Bugesera with 20 points.
The season’s surprising package thus far are SC Kiyovu who survived relegation having bounced back to the topflight football at the beginning of this season after Isonga (who had been promoted from the second division) withdrew from playing competitive leagues altogether to concentrate on their original mission of nurturing young talent.
That they are now in third on the table standings speaks to their renewed commitment to not only jealously guard their longstanding topflight status.
SC Kiyovu have so far amassed 28 points from eight wins, three draws and four losses, while they have scored 17 goals and conceded nine.
Sixteen-time champions APR have won on seven occasions, drawn seven times and lost once in the just-concluded first half of the campaign.
They have scored 19 goals and Head Coach Ljubomir Petrovic has singled out his attacking force for their struggles with goals this season. They have scored 11 goals less than AS Kiyovu, and three less than leaders Rayon Sports.
“Our striking department is not good enough, that is the truth. We’re going for a break and I am going to work especially with the strikers to see to it that we improve going forward before the league resumes,” he said.
The APR coach added: “I have the responsibility to build the players’ attitude and confidence to win matches”.
Rayon Sports Head Coach Ivan Mineart said: “All teams are doing well and stronger than before, you see that teams are going into every match looking to win. It’s still early but it is clear that the league is proving to be tighter.”
Both tacticians took the reins at their respective clubs in the closing stages of the first half of the season, with Petrovic replacing Jimmy Mulisa (who’s now the number two to the Croatian), while Mineart was named Rayon’s head coach after Olivier karekezi abandoned the team and joined his family in Sweden.
AS Kigali coach Eric Nshimiyimana said defence was his most undoing department.
“I have a solid and confident team which believes in winning. We have enough time to prepare the second round which is always tough and I hope we can do better than in the first round. We’ve worked on our defence which I felt was our weak point,” he said.
On his part, SC Kiyovu head coach Andre Casa Mbungo promised that his side was looking to up their game in the second half of the campaign. “I am sure we will show what we are really capable of doing even as it will be a difficult challenge...the target for us is winning the title.”
Equally, the fight at the other end of the table is tough. Four points separate the team in the 12th place (Kirehe with 15 points) and the rock-bottom side Gicumbi (in 16th position with 11 points). Espoir are in 13th with 14 points, Amagaju are 14th with 13 points, Miroplast are in 15th with 11 points.
SC Kiyovu snatch first win against APR in 12 years
Meanwhile, a lone strike from Moustapha Francis handed SC Kiyovu their first win over APR FC in 12 years during their matchday four encounter.
Francis snatched the winner in the 32nd minute capitalising on poor goalkeeping from APR FC goalkeeper Yves Kimenyi.
Bugesera FC sacked head coach Gilbert Yaoundé Kanyankore earlier in the season and later his successor Ally Bizimungu. Rayon legend Thierry Hitimana is now the man at the helm. At Musanze FC, Sosthene Habimana resigned from his role as head coach, and was replaced by his assistant Billy Mbusa Kombe. Espoir fired Jimmy Ndizeye, replacing him with Godfroid Okoko, who left bottom-side Gicumbi after the latter were humbled 4-0 by APR.
Hassan Muhire resigned as head coach of newcomers Miroplast and was replaced by Jean de Dieu Rafiki.
Rayon Sports lost two key employees, assistant coach and club legend Hamad Katauti Ndikumana, and goalkeeper Evariste Mutuyimana who passed on within days of each other.
In a dramatic move, Dominique Savio Nshuti played one game for AS Kigali in September having joined them from Rayon Sports but soon terminated his contract and join APR in January.
Elsewhere, Rwanda Football Federation (Ferwafa) has been embroiled on a protracted election season, which is expected to climax with new elections today after the first poll failed to result in a clear winner.