The national football team, Amavubi, start the quest for Rwanda’s first African Nations Championships (CHAN) silverware on Monday, January 18, when they take on regional arch-rivals Uganda at Stade de la Reunification in Douala.
The three-week showpiece, which was initially due in April 2020, runs from January 16 through February 7 in Cameroon.
Vincent Mashami’s side arrived in the Central African country on Wednesday and have since been holding daily training sessions at Stade Bonamoussadi.
Despite a poor showing in two warm-up matches against Republic of the Congo last week where they drew one and lost one, Amavubi players led by skipper Jacques Tuyisenge are optimistic about turning their fortunes around in Cameroon.
Rwanda makes Group C alongside holders Morocco, Uganda and Togo.
Weekend Sport looks at five key players to Rwanda’s charge at the 6th CHAN finals tournament.
The Rayon Sports shot-stopper, who is making his second appearance in CHAN finals, has regained the trust of head coach Mashami since the tactician brought him back between the sticks after costly howlers that cost Amavubi’s chances of qualifying for AFCON 2019.
His performance against Cape Verde in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers last November did not only impress Mashami, but his maturity and timely interventions were also widely seen as the biggest highlight in both matches – which ended goalless.
With 10 caps to his name so far, the 25-year-old will be a reliable asset to count on if Amavubi are to better their 2016 CHAN success when they reached the quarter-finals where they were seen off by eventual winners DR Congo.
The Rwanda Premier League’s highest-paid player has been struggling with goals this season, both at club and with the national team, but, as the captain, all eyes will be on him to rediscover his scoring form and cause all sorts of troubles to opponents in Cameroon.
Tuyisenge’s experience at African competitions will be crucial for Amavubi. He is a proven leader in crucial games and understands what it means to be the team captain.
If Rwanda is to advance beyond the group stage, or clinch the title as he promised, Tuyisenge will need to be at his best.
Rwanda would probably not be in Cameroon if it was not for Sugira’s vital goals – including a stunning overhead kick – that sent Ethiopia packing during the qualifiers in October 2019. Amavubi saw off Ethiopia 2-1 on aggregate over the two-legged tie.
The striker, who was at the time struggling with game time at club level under APR FC’s head coach Adil Erradi, has always been a great asset for the national team and Mashami knows it.
He was named on the 18-man team of the tournament during the 2016 edition that Rwanda hosted.
The forward will be looking to extend his form to the national team, after his spot-kick last week lifted AS Kigali past Ugandan side KCCA to reach the playoffs of the Caf Confederation Cup.
The former APR FC player has been struggling to find himself in Mashami’s formation, but, with his ball control, master skill in free kicks and long-range strikes, he remains s a player for big moments.
Coupled with his pace and passing prowess, Hakizimana can be every opponent’s fear factor, and playing behind a possible Sugira-Tuyisenge striking duo could shake any defence.
A very tenacious right-back with rare defensive errors, Fitina has proven to be a key component in Mashami’s plan given his versatility to defend and launch counter-attacks.
The APR defender’s presence, consistency and leadership gives Mashami a sigh of relief in back-line and he will ensure there is safety in the whole defensive department.
Ombalenga, 24, already has 36 international caps to his name and has scored once.