Rwanda qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2011
This unprecedented achievement was a landmark in their footballing history
Defender Emery Bayisenge dreams of gracing world stage again with senior team
In 2011, Rwanda qualified for their first FIFA tournament, the U-17 World Cup, causing quite a stir in in the African nation. And while the team’s Mexican adventure ended in the first round after two defeats and a draw, the performances of the young Amavubi (The Wasps) augured well for the future of Rwandan football.
"It was a completely new challenge for me," Emery Bayisenge tells FIFA.com. "Our tournament preparation was very demanding, and to go up against England, Uruguay and Canada was surreal! I've faced a player as talented as Raheem Sterling – it's something I often think about. And how can we forget the beauty of the stadiums in Mexico..."
Six months later, the defender was called up to the senior national team, where today, aged 26, he is a mainstay and the holder of 50 caps. His achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that, of that Mexico 2011 generation, only a handful have established themselves in the senior team.
"I worked hard to remain strong and earn my place in the team. Playing abroad has helped me stay sharp and ready to serve my country," says Bayisenge, whose first port of call in 2016 was Morocco (representing KAC Kenitra and JS Massira), before heading to Bangladesh in 2019.
"People in Bangladesh are passionate about football. Most stadiums are full, although the fans are not as noisy as in Morocco. I'm happy today, even if my dream would be to play in Europe," he confides.
Bayisenge also has big dreams when it comes to the national team. To date, Rwanda have only once taken part in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, at the 2004 edition in Tunisia, where the Amavubi performed respectably (one win, one draw and one defeat) but failed to survive the first phase. Today, it is the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ that is the focus of their dreams after an excellent first round performance in September 2019, when Bayisenge and Co swept aside Seychelles 10-0 over two legs.
"We have a shot," the rugged defender said of the draw for the second round, held on 21 January in Cairo. The player insisted their Group E was manageable, saying, "We’ve been pitted with two neighbouring countries, Kenya and Uganda, as well as Mali. I think we have what it takes to beat anyone in this group."
And while Bayisenge concedes that the current side "is not necessarily the best we’ve ever known", he has high hopes for the coming generation. "We have a good dynamic and our recent results suggest to me that better days lie ahead. If we can strengthen the current squad with young Rwandans who are growing up abroad and eligible to play for other countries, I see a bright future for the team."
Reaching Qatar 2022 may still be a long way off but, as the Mexico 2011 generation showed, anything is possible.