Amavubi’s poor show and Rayon’s league title marred Rwanda’s footballing year

As we start a new year-2014, 2013 can’t just go unnoticed as it left the football fraternity with little to smile.

There were high hopes for the country’s lead sport to bring a smile or two to the faces of the adoring and highly expectant fans, but all the hopes came to nothing as local clubs, for the umpteenth time, failed to impress on the continent, while the senior national team, Amavubi, had probably its worst year in recent times.

A few positives were noticed and Rwandans tried to console themselves with the development but they were sad on a larger part with the poor performances.

To start with current Cranes coach Milutin Sredojovic Micho was sacked as Amavubi coach after a disastrous campaign which saw the nation exit from Nations Cup qualifier and 2014 World Cup final.

Amavubi’s poor show and Rayon’s league title marred Rwanda’s footballing year

Micho was sacked as Amavubi Stars head coach in April on the back of a poor run of results, including in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, which would end with Amavubi rooted at the bottom of their group.

The positive aspect here is that Micho was replaced by his assistant Eric Nshimiyimana, who had earlier twice served as the interim coach. Nshimiyimana’s former international teammate Baptiste Kayiranga was named his assistant.

Amavubi’s performances remained dismal throughout the year. The senior national team was eliminated by Ethiopia from 2014 CHAN qualifiers on penalties.

Rwanda lost 1-0 away in Addis Ababa but managed to get their revenge by a similar score in the return leg in Kigali. That wasn’t however enough as the Ethiopians proved far more lethal in the resultant penalties, meaning that Amavubi will be absent in the tournament – exclusive for home-based players – in South Africa next year.

Amavubi staged poor performances at Cecafa Cup championships. They seeking only their second regional title since – after that 1999 glory, courtesy of Rwanda B –, the Amavubi Stars were eliminated from this year’s Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup after losing to hosts Kenya in the quarter-finals.

Nshimiyimana’s team had lost 1-0 to both Uganda and Sudan and beaten Eritrea 1-0 in the group stages.  That means they lost three of the four matches they played at the regional championships! In the same month of December, Rwanda slipped six places further in Fifa world rankings – to 133th – and is one of the poorest ranked countries both in the region and on the African continent.

However, the sad moments were engulfed with a few happy moments where Rayon Sports won league title for the first time in eight years. It was an end to a painful eight-year wait with Rayon Sports, arguably the most popular local club, won the national football league in Frenchman Didier Gomes Da Rosa’s first season as the coach.

That title glory ended a miserable period for the blues who, since 2004, had played second fiddle to APR, who had won six titles in that period.

Last season’s national football league top scorer Cedric Amiss was named the Best Player in the country and has gone on to become an iconic player for Rayon Sports.

The Burundian international scored 16 goals in 13 league matches, a record for the highest number of goals scored by a player in half a season.

He joined Rayon in January and went on to better a previous record set by Labama Bokota Kamana, who scored 14 also for Rayon Sports in 2007.

AS Kigali also ended a 12-year wait to win the Peace Cup title after 12 years. Under coach Andre ‘Casa’ Gasumbungo, AS Kigali defied the odds to win the 2013 Peace Cup against Malaria after beating surprise finalists AS Muhanga in the final.

That handed AS Kigali the opportunity to represent the country in the 2014 CAF Confederation Cup.

Rwanda National Police FC lifted their first ever trophy after beating league champions Rayon Sports 2-1 to claim the inaugural Ombudsman Cup. The win came under their newly appointed Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa, who had just replaced Serbian Goran Kopunovic, sacked after three seasons in charge.

Still on the club level; APR and Police proved losers on the continental level as they crushed out of the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup, respectively.  Both the military side and the cops were eliminated by Burundian clubs Vital’O and Lydia Ludic, respectively, so early in the annual competitions.

2013 was a year when record-breaker Karekezi officially retired from playing football.

The 31-year old, who scored a record 25 goals in a record 53 appearances for his country, had earlier on announced retirement from international football but a serious knee injury forced him to prematurely end his stint at the CA Bizertin of Tunisia, the same country that hosted the only Nations Cup which Rwanda and Karekezi ever featured in – CAN finals 2004.

Karekezi made his debut for Amavubi in 2000 during a two-all draw against Cote d’Ivoire in the qualifiers for the 2002 Fifa World Cup.

The former APR striker scored his first international goal against Somalia during a Cecafa Challenge Cup in a 3-0 win for Amavubi Stars.