Rwanda’s Amavubi team face a daunting task in the opening match of the 2017 CECAFA Challenge Cup which kicks off on Sunday in both Kakamega and Machakos counties in Kenya.
Rwandan will be hoping for nothing short of a positive start when Amavubi Stars renew their rivalry with the Harambee Stars of Kenya in today’s (1pm) opening Group A match of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega.
The encounter, which promises to be a crunch tie will be followed by a late kick off match (3pm) between Kilimanjaro Stars of Tanzania and guest team Libya, at Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos.
The Amavubi avenged their 2013 quarterfinal 1-0 defeat to Kenya two years ago when they edged Harambee Stars 5-3 on post-match penalties at the same stage in Ethiopia before losing to the hosts in the final. Kenya had also suffered another heartbreak in 1999 when Rwanda’s second string side beat Harambee Stars 3-1 to lift the regional title.
But today’s match comes at a time when the two teams have different targets in the tournament with both coaches Paul Put (Kenya) and Antoine Hey (Rwanda) making their debut in Africa’s oldest competition, 2019 Afcon for Kenya and 2018 CHAN for Rwanda.
Paul told Kenyan media on Saturday, “Both Rwanda and Libya are expected to bring their top players, and Libya too will field their best team as they seek to use the tournament as a build-up for the CHAN finals in Morocco in January, which have also qualified to take part,”
“The tournament will give me the opportunity to look at the local players. Our goal is the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, but it is important to have a good result.
“We will have to learn by our own mistakes, and see how the team will perform. But the players want to prove themselves, and playing at home will be an extra motivation for them.”
Kenya last won the Cecafa Cup in 2013 when Allan Wanga scored both goals in the 2-0 victory over Sudan in the final in Nairobi.
Kenya have won the regional tournament six times and finished in the final on seven occasions – the mission for Put is start his tenure with a trophy.
Looking at Rwanda’s Amavubi, their mission is to stun their hosts and claim the full three points to boost their semi-final aspirations.
Rwanda have bagged the CECAFA trophy once and will want to register their second gold medal as they will meet Kenya.
On the other hand, the Antoine Hey-coached side will want to go all the way to the final and erase their disappointments after finishing as number two on six occasions.
Head coach Hey will use only local players in the regional tournament as he prepares for the 2018 African Nations Championships (CHAN) finals in Morocco.
Speaking to local media this week, Hey said, “We have a very young team but it is willing to work hard and reach another level. They have been getting better in past games and I feel that they can do much better in CECAFA. They need to show their talent during the tournament because, in a way, they will be marketing themselves,” Hey said.
Hey further explained that, “It is one of the best competitions especially for the young players to get experience, so we need to give them a chance. We are going with a purpose to win (the tournament) and the key for us will be the first game.”
Amavubi reached the final two years ago and lost to the Uganda Cranes 1-0 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In total, Rwanda has played in seven finals since 1999, but won only one trophy.
The last time Rwanda won the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup was 18 years ago when they beat Kenya 3-1 at Amahoro National Stadium, when some of the players in the current Amavubi, like Abeddy Biramahire, 19, Innocent Nshuti, 18, Djabel Manishimwe, 19, were just toddlers.