The national football team, Amavubi, face an uphill task this month as they prepare for two must-win fixtures against Mozambique and Cameroon to stand a chance for a ticket to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals.
Should, against all odds, Amavubi pull it off, Rwanda could end a 17-year wait to return to the continent’s biggest football showpiece. Cameroon will host the tournament early next year.
Vincent Mashami, who penned a one-year contract extension last week to remain as head coach, has summoned a 31-man provisional squad that began training on Monday, March 8. The team trains twice a day at Kigali Stadium and is camping at La Palisse Hotel Nyamata.
Mashami, whose side sits bottom of Group F, knows that his chances of guiding Amavubi to AFCON hang on how they will fare during the next two decisive fixtures in the qualifiers when they host Mozambique in Kigali on March 24 before visiting leaders Cameroon a week later.
After four matches, Rwanda has only picked up two points, two adrift of second and third-placed Cape Verde and Mozambique, respectively, and giants Cameroon who have 10 points.
What chances does Rwanda stand?
Mashami and his boys have a mountain to climb. For Rwanda to qualify, it does not only require Amavubi to win both remaining matches, but it will also depend on results from Cape Verde and Mozambique’s fixtures.
Home victory on March 24 would lift Rwanda above Mozambique on the table with five points, and home defeat for Cape Verde against Cameroon will see Mashami’s side climb to second.
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If Amavubi end match-day 5 in second place, an away win in Cameroon, on March 30, would automatically see the Wasps reach the AFCON finals tournament irrespective of the outcome from Mozambique and Cape Verde in the two sides’ fixture.
With forward Jacques Tuyisenge out through a knee injury, which he sustained at the African Nations Championship in January, the likes of Meddie Kagere, Ernest Sugira and Lague Byiringiro will need to step up to end the goal drought that has troubled the team since the qualifiers campaign began almost two years ago.
Rwanda has not scored a single goal, and conceded three times after four match rounds.
The goal difference rule would for instance haunt Amavubi if they manage four points from their last two games, and Cape Verde pick up two. They would be level at 6 points, and the latter, who have drawn all their matches so far, snatches the ticket courtesy of a superior goal difference.
Possibilities for an AFCON ticket are still there, but, Amavubi must first garner maximum points from their two remaining fixtures. It is quite an uphill battle.
March 24 Rwanda vs Mozambique
March 30 Cameroon vs Rwanda