The odds might be stacked against Rwanda in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ African Zone qualifiers, but head coach Branko Tucak is hoping for a miracle to help the tiny nation in their unlikely journey to reach South Africa in 2010.
The road to both the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2010 and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa next year is likely to be a very long one for the Rwandans, one littered with speed-bumps and detours. "We are not in the final round just to make up the numbers. We want to show the world we are not here because of luck," Tucak told FIFA.com. "I'm very confident in my team. We beat Morocco in the last round, and we've won every single game at home, that shows a lot."
For a country that has only won six FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in their entire history, critics might be quick to write them off. However, the Rwandans will be quick to remind their detractors that they are used to starting from the back of the pack as underdogs.
Faced with limited resources and extreme poverty, Rwanda's national team are eager to re-write the history books by qualifying for their second Africa Cup of Nations in Angola in 2010, thus giving the people in the country something to cheer about. It will be no easy task, though, as they are grouped with defending African champions and runaway favourites Egypt, Zambia and Algeria.
"I consider us favourites in our first game against Algeria," Tucak said. "Zambia and Egypt have a few players abroad and they might be on holiday in their minds. Egypt might also be focusing on the Confederations Cup and use our game as a test. Again, I'm sure we will have our chances. If we win against Algeria, we could do it in Zambia, exactly like we did in the last round when we beat Ethiopia away after Mauritania at home."
Rwanda's first round of qualifying was filled with heroic moments. In their first game, they defeated lowly-ranked Mauritania 1-0 and followed it up with a 2-1 victory over Ethiopia. However, their biggest moment came in Kigali last June where they pulled a major coup by beating Morocco 3-1 in a match where the North Africans were expected to win easily. It was this victory, achieved through sheer tenacity and hard-work, that ignited hope and ambition throughout Rwanda.
Hard work ahead
"I have to be realistic and make everyone realise that great results need a lot of work and a lot of effort," the coach went on. "My first goal is to get my guys to progress and to get them playing in Europe. I can't hide my confidence, I'm dreaming about the World Cup. But it's not only a dream, I really believe that we can qualify."
The last time the Rwandans qualified for the Cup of Nations was back in 2004 after an epic victory against Ghana in Kigali; a match that ended the Black Stars' hopes of participating in the finals.
That triumph was expected to be the start of a new future for the national team. However, a number of retirements in the side have necessitated the injection of new blood. The coach has continuously chosen younger squads, now averaging just over 20 years old, in order to rebuild the national team. "Our time is now, we have put in a lot of hard work and I believe in my players," Tucak added.