ABDUL Rwatubyaye has challenged Rayon Sports teammates to hold their nerve, and step up their performance, when they host Nigerian giants Enyimba in CAF Confederation Cup’s quarter-finals at Kigali Stadium on Sunday.
The Blues host the first leg in Kigali tomorrow before playing away to Enyimba, at the newly refurbished Enyimba International Stadium in Aba, on September 23.
Rayon Sports have drawn confidence from their 1-0 victory over Tanzania’s Young Africans last month at Kigali Stadium, which kept alive their hopes for a title challenge this year after failing to retain the Azam Rwanda Premier League title and losing to Mukura in the Peace Cup final.
After a slow start to Group D campaign of the continent’s second-tier club competition, where Rayon only managed three points out of their first four games, Roberto Oliveira’s side bounced back to collect a crucial six points from their last two games against Gor Mahia and Young Africans – which saw them sail through to the last eight at the expense of Kenyan champions Gor Mahia.
Speaking to Saturday Sport on Thursday, Rwanda international and Rayon Sports central defender Rwatubyaye admitted that they are facing an uphill task to go past one of Africa’s best football clubs, and it is impossible to stop looking forward to the match come Sunday.
“If you have Enyimba to face you have to think about them, they are one of the best clubs on the continent. We respect them, but we are not going to allow being underdogs at our own backyard.
“We have to fight and make the most of home advantage,” Rwatubyaye appealed to his teammates.
Should Rayon Sports see off two-time African champions, Enyimba, they will meet title favourites Raja Casablanca of Morocco or CARA Brazzaville in the semi-finals next month.
“I think it is a little too early to harbour title dreams. We don’t want to distract ourselves looking far ahead, we want to take it one game at a time. Right now the two games against Enyimba are our priority, that’s where our whole attention should be.”
“Everyone on the team is fit and wants to help the team. With such determination and collective commitment, I see no reason why we should fear anyone,” the former APR centre-back noted.
Rayon “already tested against the best”
“Our journey to quarter-finals has not been without a fight, we have been tested against some of Africa’s best already – and we absolutely deserve to be where we are right now. Many did not expect to see or hear of a Rwandan side in the round of last eight.”
The 22-year-old defender has insisted that holding South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns in Kigali, and USM Alger in Algeria as well as beating Gor Mahia in Kenya, all this year, are some of the results that prove why Rayon Sports cannot be underrated.
Odds are against Rayon
Commenting on his side’s chances to go all the way to lifting the title come December 2, Rwatubyaye said, “No doubt bookies and punters will rate them (Enyimba) as favourites, but we have been underdogs before and we can be quite dangerous at that.
There’s only eight [teams] left in the tournament, so we believe we can go on and win it. Hopefully it turns out that way,” the hard-tackling defender said.
Taking the game personal
“Playing at such a stage is every player’s dream, unfortunately most don’t get to live that day. I want to shine and help Rayon Sports reach the semi finals, I have never felt this enthusiastic and ready to do anything possible for a victory,” a visibly optimistic Rwatubyaye noted.
“I don’t know much about Enyimba, besides the fact that I grew up admiring them.”
Rwatubyaye also conceded that, “Quarter-finals of the Confederation Cup is by far the highest level of football that most of us have played, but I believe it’s only the first of many large platforms to come for me and most of the players on the team.”
Phenomenal group survival
While Rayon Sports cruised to the quarter-finals of the continent’s second biggest club competition as first runners-up from Group D with 9 points, their opponents, Enyimba, progressed as Group A leaders with 12 points.
After four match rounds, with two to go, Kenyan giants Gor Mahia (8 points) needed one point to advance to quarter-finals while it was a must for Rayon Sports to garner a maximum six points to stand a chance – and they did it in style.
On match-day five, Rayon Sports stunned Gor Mahia 2-1 in Nairobi on August 19 despite arriving in the Kenyan capital less than 20 hours to kick-off. Burundian forward Bonfils Caleb Bimenyimana and left-back Eric Rutanga were the scorers for Rayon.
Prior to the final match round on August 29, Gor Mahia and USM Alger jointly topped Group D with 8 points apiece, two ahead of Rayon Sports. Young Africans had 4 points at the bottom.
The former CAF Champions League finals, USM Alger, had to host Gor Mahia while Rayon were hosting Young Africans. The Algerian giants and Rayon won their respective encounters, 2-1 and 1-0 respectively, to secure slots to the quarter-finals.
Again, Bimenyimana was the hero of the night.
Players may leave, but the team remains!
The club’s assistant captain has also praised the unshaken team sprit despite departures of some key players and scandals in the coaching and management of the team.
“It has been a tough journey. Some key players and technical staff left but we kept surging forward because the team is bigger than individuals. The problems taught us to stick together,” he said.
Besides the unceremonious departures of former coaches Olivier Karekezi and Belgian Ivan Minneart, the club also lost some of their star players in the course of the season such as; Eric ‘Bakame’ Ndayishimiye, Pierrot Kwizera, Ismailla Diarra, and Faustin Usengimana.
Former skipper Ndayishimiye was fired for allegedly conspiring against the team while the trio of Kwizera, Diarra and Usengimana landed professional contracts abroad.
Apart from the much-awaited Rayon Sports Vs Enyimba tie, USM Alger take on Egyptian side Al-Masry, Raja Casablanca of Morocco will be up against CARA Brazzaville of the Republic of Congo, while DR Congo’s AS Vita Club and Morocco’s RSB Berkane square-off in the other quarter-final.
Raja Casablanca, also known as Raja Club Athletic, advanced to the quarter-finals as Group A leaders with 11 points, ahead of first runners-up AS Vita Club (10 points). RSB Berkane and Al-Masry progressed from Group B as leaders and first runners-up with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Only Rwanda’s Rayon Sports and Congo’s CARA Brazzaville are playing quarter-finals in any Caf competition for the first time.