25 December 2012

Rwanda: APR Taking Nothing for Granted

After falling short on numerous occasions as an APR player, Eric Nshimiyimana, who is now the club coach, does not need to be reminded of what it takes to reach the latter stages of CAF (Confederation of African Football)'s premier club competition - the Champions League.

The army side will open their 2013 Champions League campaign with a double-legged clash against a more familiar opponent in Vital'O. The Burundian champions will be making their eighth appearance in the competition as opposed to APR's eleven outings and although APR had the better of their Burundian opponents in last week's RPF Jubilee tournament after knocking them out with a 2-0 win, Nshimiyimana has warned his players not to dwell so much on that result.

"It was a good win for us but we should not dwell on it because the Champions League is a different tournament altogether," he said. "We shouldn't forget also that we played against a weakened Vital'O side missing several first team players."

The first leg will be hosted in Kigali on the weekend of February 15-17 followed by the return leg in Bujumbura in March, and Nshimiyimana insists that anything short of victory in the first leg will put his side on the back foot. "In the Champions League, it's always important to win your home matches and then fight for a win or draw away so we have to go there with the right mentality and the right approach and sense of pride."

The sentiments of Nshimiyimana, who has been entrusted with overseeing the team's transition phase following the departure of several key players in the transfer window, were echoed by his opposite number Yaounde Kanyankole after his team's exit in the RPF Jubilee tournament.

"To have a genuine chance in this competition, you have to win your home games and then take it from there," he said. "The Champions League is completely different from the domestic one because if you are not at your best, you get punished."

Ten appearances

Last year, APR's miserable run in the competition continued after being knocked out by Tunisia's Club Africain in the preliminary round. The army side held the Tunisian club to a 2-all draw in the first leg (Kigali) but had no answers in the return leg as they lost 4-0. This year, the club went a notch better by reaching the first round after ejecting Tusker of Kenya on goal aggregates (1-0).

But that was as far as they could go. After being held to a goalless draw in the first leg by Etoile du Sahel, they were eventually knocked out after losing the return leg 2-3 in Sousse.

This has been the trend of Rwandan's football giants. The club has made ten appearances in the tournament; suffering two knockouts at the preliminary round and seven first round knockouts. Their best appearance came back in 2004 when they reached the third round under the tutelage of Jean Marie Ntagwabira. That year, they hammered Eritrea's Anseba in the first leg (11-3) to set up a second round clash with Egypt's power house Zamalek.

With the bookies against them, they defied the odds to see off the Egyptian champions on goal aggregates (6-4). It was the biggest upset of the tournament. In the third round, APR lost to Ivory Coast's Africa Sports on penalties after a 1-all draw. It was the closest they had come to reaching the lucrative group stage.

In 2010, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo became the first club ever to defend the African crown on two separate occasions. Having won back to back titles in 1967 and 1968, the Congolese side repeated the feat in 2009 and 2010.

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