By Jacobs O. Seaman in Kigali
RWANDA–Uganda Cranes had to withstand two unnerving early stings from Amavabi Stars to book their ticket to next year’s African Cup of Nations Championships in Nairobi Kenya.
The Cranes arrived in Kigali brimming with confidence after a convincing 3-0 first leg win over the ‘Wasps’ in Kampala seven days earlier feeling that overturning the deficit on aggregate would be more uphill at a task for Rwanda than climbing all the a thousand hills in the country in one day.
But Antoine Hey had other ideas and his script was to be delivered by hook or crook. The Amavabi head coach had arrived in Kampala last week confident that his side could return to Kigali with a result only to be outwitted and outplayed by Moses Basena’s stooges.
Seething with frustration having already sourly complained of the ‘cattle pitch’ that St Mary’s Kitende turf appeared to him, Hey promised to avenge that defeat.
And avenge he did, but it just wasn’t enough. Or would have, maybe, if the Amavubi had played the same manner they did in the first half but that will forever be a ‘maybe.’
Amavubi fans watching from the comfort of their living rooms or in bars might have felt a tinge of regret at not stomping the hilly Nyamirambo for the match proper when midfielder Yannick Mukunzi struck home inside eight minutes and his compatriot Thierry Manzi nodded home a second seven minutes later to set Kigali Regional Stadium alight.
The stadium was half empty, with Cranes fans, many of whom had travelled the 504 kilometres from Kampala, the majority and the two goals shushed their rousing cheers and set the tone for a nervous 75 minutes–although this would not be the case proper.
For all the shaky first 15 minutes, Basena and his assistant Fred Kajoba had to earn their collar from this moment on. The signs that overturning the deficit was after all possible were as bright as the scores on the giant stadium display screen.
Pacing up and down, the two tacticians set out to instill possession discipline, especially in the Cranes midfield where Paul Musamali, Benard Muwanga and Milton Karisa were dropping more balls than a pregnant cloud does raindrops.
Clearly, Amavubi midfield pairing of Eric Iradukunda and Yannick Mukunzi were having early dinner and had to be contained.
Cranes soon settled in and Muzamir Mutyaba–whose two goals made the big difference in Kampala–and Shafik Kagimu were able to test the gloves of goalkeeper Eric Ndayishimye.
Amavubi continued the onslaught and that came with dosage of simulation as the host players sought for easy calls and bookings, but Cranes held their nerves for the break.
Basena no doubt had his tongue busy and might have foamed in the corners of the mouth inside the dressing room. A punter betting on the Cranes tactician throwing a sink, literally, at his players at the final whistle if they played the manner they did in the opening quarter an hour wouldn’t have been too wide of the mark.
The Cranes returned for the second half with one carbon copy of their first half bad showing: struggling to put the ball down on the bumpy albeit neat artificial surface of Kigali Regional Stadium. But they were more confident in their approach to the game and reduced the Amavubi to punting long balls high in the area for striker Abeddy Biramahire to gamble with.
Biramahire was one tireless hound on the loose chasing down at everything, including shadows of Cranes defenders, but they (Cranes defenders) had the antidote for this style of play.
At the other end, goalkeeper Ismael Watenga engaged in his own time-wasting antics, that, although legal, were a tad displeasing to many in the stadium. The homes fans jeered and the home players complained bitterly from time to time.
Sudanese referee Alamen Hafiz Abdelghani wasn’t impressed either and appeared to have lost his patience in the 68th minute when Watenga collected a loose ball and rolled like a doll in the wind before lolling in foetal position like he had broken an ankle and a knee pad.
As the Amavubi players complained, Abdelghani signaled for the team doctors and stooped over Watenga, a yellow card in hand.
The referee would moments later redeem and again tarnish himself when, first, he ignored Abeddy Biramahire’s attempt to win a foul with defender Isaac Muleme the last man. A foul would go with matching orders. Abdelghani was well-positioned and saw through the simulation and ignored it.
The Rwandan striker again tried to get Muleme on the referee’s wrong side when he went down holding his face but he was the one in the wrong and a freekick to Cranes and ignoring him was all the ref could do.
However, at the other end of the pitch, substitute Paul Mucureezi’s darting run into the area was more than enough to win a penalty in the dying minutes when he was brought down. Only the centre referee didn’t think it was deserving of that call.
By then the travelling party was boisterous. The Black, Gold and Red flag waived in the open stands as the fans blew their vuvuzelas and sang.
As Abdelghani brought the match to an end, Rwanda had done all they could to win, but not enough to qualify for the final of the nations tournament that is open to only players featuring in domestic leagues.
Uganda joined that likes of Cameroon, Zambia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Angola, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania and host Kenya in booking their tickets to January’s final in Nairobi.
Uganda have made it to the CHAN finals for the fourth straight time and Basena and Kajoba have completed their first assignment and will be dusting themselves ahead of the World Cup 2018 double header qualifier against Egypt in the next two weeks.
The Pharaohs will be in Kampala for the August 31 Group E first leg before a return date in Port Alexandria on September 5.
Other CHAN qualifier results
Cameroon 2-0 Sao Tome and Principe (4-0)
Zambia 2-0 South Africa (4-2)
Rwanda 2-0 Uganda (2-3)
DR Congo 1-1 Congo (1-1)
Nigeria 2-0 Benin (2-1)
Angola 1-0 Madagascar (1-0)
Ivory Coast* 1-0 Niger (2-2 *Ivory Coast qualify on away goals rule)
Mali 0-1 Mauritania (2-3)
Ismail Watenga, Nicholas Wadada, Isaac Muleme, Paul Musamali, Timothy Awany, Bernard Muwanga, Moses Waiswa (Martin Kizza) Muzamir Mutyaba (Paul Mucureezi) Derrick Nsibambi Milton Karisa (Erisa Sekisambu) Shafik Kagimu.