Rayon have set the bar very high for local rivals

Rayon Sports’ midfielder Prosper Kuka with the ball during a past match. Sam Ngendahimana.

Last Sunday marked the end of the journey for Rayon Sports in their Caf Confederation Cup campaign this year, but despite heavily losing their last game  against Enyimba FC in Nigeria they had already set the bar very high on continental stage for local archrivals.

It is easy to judge that Rayon performed poorly in their last match by allowing in five goals in their net, and argue that they could have honorably exited the tournament, which I don’t disagree with.

However, we don’t have to be blindfolded by the defeat and forget the fact that they are the first Rwandan side to reach the group stage in any Caf competition – let alone reaching the last eight.

Regardless of their harsh exit from the continent’s second-tier club competition, the Blues have superlatively represented the country on the continent this season. Instead of being consumed by what could have been another ‘first-time’ feat for a Rwandan team to reach semi-finals of a continental competition, they deserve to be applauded for the historic quarter-finals they played.

Maybe the question should be: Will Rwanda’s next representatives in Caf competitions – APR in Champions League, and Mukura in Confederation Cup – maintain the standards next season?

Reaching far at the highest level of club football in Africa needs ample preparations. Our next year’s reps will have to be prepared on all fronts; an effective squad, working technical staff, financial ability, and most of all, mental strength and strong commitment of players.

For financially struggling sides like ours, reaching far in continental competitions should not only be looked at as a PR for the country’s football, it is a source of income. Rayon racked in around Rwf534m (USD 600,000) from the Confederation of African Football – CAF.

By booking a ticket to quarter-finals, the Blues are expected to receive a financial windfall of USD 340,000. The club also earned USD 260,000 for making it to the group stage in March.

Courtesy of the team’s impressive run, against all the odds, a good number of Rayon Sports players were able to shine and went on to land professional contracts in more advanced leagues.

Burundian forward Hussein ‘Tchabalala’ Shaban was signed by South African outfit Baroka FC, his compatriot Pierrot Kwizera went to Al Oruba Sur Sports Club in Oman, Malian striker Ismaila Diarra was recruited by Algeria’s ‘Chabab Ahly Bordj Bou Arréridj, while Rwanda international Faustin Usengimana moved to Kuwaiti side Khaitan Sporting Club.

At the moment, star playmaker Yannick Mukunzi is undergoing trails with Sweden second division side Sundvikens IF.

And, according to reports, left-back Eric Rutanga, goalkeeper Abouba Bashunga, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Kevin Muhire and Ange Mutsinzi have all attracted attention from other clubs and are linked with moves to different clubs in Africa and overseas.

The above mentioned players are in the club’s starting line-up this year.

On their way to reaching the Confederation Cup’s quarter-finals, Rayon registered good results against some of Africa’s renowned giants. They held South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns in Kigali, held USM Alger in Algeria, and beat Gor Mahia in Nairobi, Kenya.

Despite their 5-1 routing at the hands of Enyimba FC at Enyimba International Stadium, Roberto Oliveira’s men had also held the two-time African champions to a goalless draw in the first-leg in Kigali.

If there is anything that Rayon Sports achieved this year, it is daring to set a good example for domestic rivals to follow.