24 January 2016

Rwanda: How Rwanda and DR Congo Are Taking CHAN By Storm

The 2016 African Nations Championship (Chan) enters its second week today. Event organisers here will be quietly happy that hosts Rwanda have hit the ground running. It's a cliche, isn't it, that a football tournament is as vibrant as the on-the-field performance of the host country.

Tournaments always spring to life when the host country fares well. Rwanda wasted no time in hitting a purple patch at this year's Chan. A startling 1-0 win over Ivory Coast set the tone for what has been a hugely productive championship for the hosts. They became the first country to qualify for the knockout stage after Ernest Sugira's clinical brace procured a 2-1 win over ten-man Gabon.

Rwanda's success story, of course, owes much to the tremendous work done by Johnny McKinstry. The Northern Irishman has showed tactical nous that belies his relative inexperience and tender age.

That Rwanda would entrust their coaching reins to someone who only turned 30 last year tells its own story. This tiny country nestled against thousands of hills has a firm belief in youthful exuberance. For instance, the team featuring in this year's Chan has a camaraderie about it because has been playing underage football since 2009.

Rwanda is not just going young with its national team and coach. The provincial technical directors are also just as young and vibrant. Your columnist had the chance to sound out Muhamed Ntibatega who superintends over the western province that also includes Rubavu.

Home to Rwanda's biggest beach resort, Rubavu has produced many Amavubi stalwarts. Ntibatega told your columnist that the district's proximity to Democratic Republic of Congo (it shares a border with Goma) has seen it try and copy one or two best practices from its illustrious neighbour.

DR Congo have of course taken to this year's Chan like a duck to water. They are playing a brand of football that is soft on the eye with the likes of Elia Meschak and Guy Luvumbu earning many rave reviews. It has helped a great deal that DR Congo group matches have taken place in Huye, which is just a four-hour drive from the country's border town of Goma.

The net result of this is a sea of Congolese fans who have brilliantly gotten behind their team. A tally of seven goals scored against Angola and Ethiopia shows that DR Congo has the firepower usually needed to win a championship like the Chan.

After drawing their opening fixture against Mali, Uganda were looking to getting to winning ways yesterday. The Cranes took on Zambia at Stade Umuganda yesterday with a question mark hovering above Farouk Miya's involvement.

The attacking midfielder popped his shoulder after landing awkwardly on the stroke of first half during the two-all draw with Mali. Miya does have a fighting chance to figure in the championship, but the same cannot be said of goalkeeper Ismail Watenga. A groin injury pulled the rug from under the youngster's feet.

A rug could also be pulled from under Sunday Oliseh's feet if he fails to win the Chan let alone make it out of group C.

Chisom Chikatara scored a treble against Niger to earn some respite for Oliseh who has gotten stick for opting to stay put in Belgium during the buildup to the championship. The knives were, however, swiftly removed when the Super Eagles stuttered to a draw with Tunisia in Nyamirambo.

They now have to win their last group fixture against Guinea to avoid the embarrassment of an early exit.


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