APR remain perennial underachievers
No one can dispute that the attractive one – two touch passing and speed of movement have made APR a joy to watch in recent seasons. In fact, despite their short history, they are still the most successful Rwandan football club with 13 league titles, seven Peace Cups and three Cecafa Kagame Cups.
Their flowing, attacking style of football certainly appeals to the eyes of neutrals and fans alike, but for how long can the fans stomach the team’s dismal performances in the Caf Champions League.
For those who are not conversant with the competition, it is Africa’s most prestigious and lucrative club tournament. With a purse of US$1.5 million (approx. Frw903m) on offer to the winner and US$1 million (approx. Frw602m) to the losing finalist, the annual event, which attracts league champions of respective CAF member countries, has become the richest club competition in Africa.
It always starts with a series of preliminary rounds until the last 16 stage where teams faceoff in playoffs. The eight winners are then drawn into two groups of four with each team playing the other on a home and away basis. The top two sides in each group then meet in the semifinals, with the winners going on to contest the final.
In 2010, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo became the first club ever to defend the African crown on two separate occasions. Having won back to back titles in 1967 and 1968, the Congolese side repeated the feat in 2009 and 2010.
Last year, APR’s miserable run in the competition continued after being knocked out by Tunisia’s Club Africain in the preliminary round.
The army side held the Tunisian club to a 2-all draw in the first leg (Kigali) but had no answers in the return leg as they lost 4-0 to lose 2-6 on goal aggregates. This year, the club went a notch better by reaching the first round after ejecting Tusker of Kenya on goal aggregates (1-0).
But that was as far as they could go. After being held to a goalless draw in the first leg by Etoile du Sahel, they were eventually knocked out after losing the return leg 2-3 in Sousse.
This has been the trend of Rwandan’s football giants. The club has made ten appearances in the tournament; suffering two knockouts at the preliminary round and seven first round knockouts. Their best appearance came back in 2004 when they reached the third round under the tutelage of Jean Marie Ntagwabira.
That year, they hammered Eritrea’s Anseba in the first leg (11-3) to set up a second round clash with Egypt’s power house Zamalek. With the bookies against them, they defied the odds to see off the Egyptian champions on goal aggregates (6-4). It was the biggest upset of the tournament.
In the third round, APR lost to Ivory Coast’s Africa Sports on penalties after a 1-all draw. It was the closest they had come to reaching the lucrative group stage.
Irrespective of how many national league titles, Peace Cups and Cecafa titles they win, they will always be judged on their performances in the elite competition.
To some extent, it seems like the players and coaches are contented with a league title and when possible, a Kagame Cup trophy. So until this mentality changes, the team’s cameo appearances in the Champions league will continue.
At the end of every dismal campaign in the Champions league, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘what is APR missing?’
How long this remains the case is up to the board and the coach.
But what is more worrying for APR fans is the fact that it may be a pattern that we will see repeated for years to come.
It is unclear whether the board is contented with a mediocre display in the Champions League. But again, if that was the case, then there would be no need to spend heavily on foreign players. Over the years, APR has shipped in Cameroonians, Zambians, Kenyans, Ugandans, and Congolese in a bid to have a strong side.
The club scouts need to do a lot more than just buying players because they are Cameroonians or Brazilians.
Last season, the team went an extra mile by shipping in three Brazilians but the few times they have played, they have come off the bench.
I completely empathise with fans that react angrily at the end of each season.
Of course I’m not saying that please go and spend ludicrous sums of money on overinflated players but the club still needs certain players in key areas to make the team genuine challengers.
Rwandan Premier League: 13
1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
Rwandan Cup: 7
2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012
CECAFA Clubs Cup: 3
2004, 2007, 2010
PERFORMANCE IN CAF COMPETITIONS
CAF Champions League: 10 appearances
- 1997 – First Round
- 2000 – First Round
- 2002 – First Round
- 2004 – Third Round
- 2006 – First Round
- 2007 – First Round
- 2008 – Preliminary Round
- 2010 – First Round
- 2011 – Preliminary Round
- 2012 –First Round
CAF Confederation Cup: 3 appearances
- 2004 – Intermediate Round
- 2005 – Second Round
- 2009 – Second Round