28 December 2012

Rwanda: Unendurable Year for Amavubi

Rwanda's national soccer team, the Amavubi Stars, started the year off with a Fifa world ranking of 110 and by the end of the year they had dropped 24 places in the World. In between, they jumped to of 105 in both March and April, before slowly falling to 124 and 122 in October and November and 134 at the end of the year.

On the playing field, Rwanda was knocked out of the Afcon qualifiers and only remain in the World Cup qualifiers where they also sit bottom of Pool H after snatching a home draw against Benin after a 0-4 drubbing by Algeria in the first game.

Coach Sredojovic Milutin Micho was appointed as the Amavubi coach in October 2011, and made a promising start as they went on an unbeaten streak of eight matches.

This included beating Eritrea in a two-legged preliminary World Cup qualifying match, and five wins and one draw in the 2011 Cecafa Challenge Cup held in Dar es Salaam.

Knocked out of Afcon 2013

In their first competitive match in February 2012, they forced the Super Eagles of Nigeria to a goalless draw in Kigali in an Afcon 2013 qualifier.

In the return leg, two goals, one in either half were enough for Nigeria's Super Eagles to eliminate Rwanda's Amavubi Stars from the running to play at the 2013 African Cup of Nations finals tournament in South Africa.

This was a failed attempt in six years since Rwanda last participated in the Africa Nations' Cup final in 2004 which was held in Tunisia.

The Amavubi team started off their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with warm-up matches which resulted in defeats to Libya (2-0) and Tunisia (5-1) and a 1-1 draw with Chad all held in Tunisia.

In the opening qualifier against Algeria, Amavubi produced their worst display in a very long time as they got hammered 4-0 in Blida on June 3 . Micho's men were second best in all departments and the score-line could have been a lot worse (maybe double figures) had it not been for some spectacular goalkeeping from Jean Claude Ndoli.

Coach Micho promised to play an attacking game as he was seeking to become the first coach to get a win for Rwanda in North Africa but his team let him down with a disappointing performance.

Rwanda holds Benin in Kigali

On June 11, before the second qualifier against Benin, Micho made a few changes, bringing on the little-known Steven Godfroid in the squad.

As soon as he was included in Micho's 23-man provisional squad, everyone criticisedthe coach's move but the 22-year old who has now moved to Vietnam from Belgian third division league was the man of the match. He performed impressively on the day when Amavubi came back from a goal down to secure a valuable draw.

As far as reaching the play-offs of the 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers is concerned, Rwanda needs a miracle. They are currently bottom of Group H with one point and need to win their remaining matches to stand a chance of sneaking through.

Benin leads the standings with four points followed by Algeria and Mali on three points each.

On October 13, Rwanda were held by to a goalless draw by Namibia in a friendly match in Windhoek. Namibia dominated possession and Rudolf Bester, Sadney Urikhob and Pineas Jacob all came close to scoring, while Manfred Starke also had a fine debut.

But despite their territorial advantage, the goals did not come and the Brave Warriors have now just scored once in their past six matches.

On November 14, Amavubi played a 2-all draw against Namibia in the return leg friendly. After a goalless first half, Amavubi scored twice in quick succession to take a 2-0 lead early in the second half.

Full back Hamdan Bariyanga turned into goalkeeper as he used his hand to keep out a net bound ball to save Amavubi Stars from defeat against Namibia.

The handball was the pivotal moment in a thrilling 2-2 draw in which both teams played an offensive game. Primus National League top scorer Jimmy Mbaraga scored Amavubi's opening goal on fifty seventh minute after a good exchange with Elias Uzamukunda to strike past goalie Christo Vries Virgil.

Ten minutes later, Uzamukunda met Mwemere Girinshuti's cross to stretch over two defenders and score the second goal with a fine header.

But with about 20 minutes to go, substitutes Petrus Shitembi, Willy Stephanus and Sadney Urikhob were all brought in and the game changed completely.

Henrico Botes opened Namibia's account after a good build up involving the substitutes, and then Larry Horaeb tapped home a cross in a crowded box as Namibia drew level.

Rwanda knocked out of Cecafa

This year, Amavubi failed to repeat last year's feat of reaching the final of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup after losing to Tanzania Mainland 2-0 in the quarterfinal in Lugogo ground in Kampala.

A goal in either half by Amuri Kiemba (in 33rd minute) and John 'Adebayor' Bocco (in 54th minute) condemned Rwanda to an early exit from a tournament they have not won since 1998 despite coming so close on a couple of occasions.

On December 22, Rwanda suffered another 0-1 defeat to Angola in a Pre-Nations' Cup friendly match in Luanda.

Mingo Bille, a defensive midfielder with Angola's Agosto, scored the lone goal when he shot a powerful and quick shot from deep in the midfield past Amavubi's shaky defence, leaving APR custodian Jean Claude Ndoli lying on the ground.

Coach Micho, who fielded a youthful squad, was using the match to continue preparing World Cup qualifiers in March next year where they face Mali, Algeria and Benin and CHAN qualifiers due in June.

A certain section of Amavubi fans has called for a change of guard in the team. They believe it's time to introduce fresh blood in the team; players who have the ability to perform at the top level.

Whether Micho is going to buy into the idea remains to be seen but as things stand, something has to be done and now.

In general, Amavubi ended 2012 on a very poor note in the region scoring ten goals, conceding twenty-two goals in fourteen matches played this year. Amavubi won two, lost seven and drew five matches.

Major challenge in 2013

With coach Micho's two-year contract coming to an end late next year, Rwanda have a fine young team in the making but will face a major challenge in 2013 when they try to progress from their World Cup qualifying group.

On March 3, the country will host Mali in Kigali in Group H's World Cup first qualifying test of the year. On June 7, they will play away to Mali and a week later they will host Algeria in Kigali. Their final Round 2 Group H match is against Benin in Cotonou on September 6.

Benin currently lead the log with 4 points from two matches, while Algeria and Mali are second with 3 points from 2 matches each. Rwanda has one point from 2 matches.

Only the winning team of each group will go through to the final African qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup.

The 10 group winners of Round 2 will be paired in five home and away ties, with the five winners qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

In June, Rwanda will bid to qualify for the third edition of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) to be hosted by South Africa in 2014 when they host the winner between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the first round.

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