BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Wednesday NOV 15
Group C: Rwanda v Zimbabwe – 2pm
Group H: Equatorial Guinea v Namibia – 2pm
Group B: Congo DR v Mauritania – 5pm
Group A: Ethiopia v Sierra Leone – 8pm
The African qualifying series for the 2026 World Cup gets under way this Wednesday afternoon as the first ball is kicked in the Group C harbouring Nigeria, South Africa, Lesotho, Rwanda, Benin and Zimbabwe.
It is Rwanda hosting Zimbabwe that will set rolling, the projected 260-match series spanning 47 months. The matches could have been 270, but the 10 matches involving Eritrea in Group E have to be cancelled following the country’s withdrawal.
Zimbabwe who are away to Rwanda are just returning to the international competitions after the country was suspended by FIFA. The suspension was only lifted in July.
Rwanda, the hosts will be hoping for a good start having not won any competitive match since their 1-0 win over Mozambique on March 24, 2021.
They will be hoping for good form of the trio of Djihad Bizimana, Hakim Sahabo and Lague Byiringiro . The trio can be decisive to the result.
After a torrid time at Belgian side KMSK Deinze which affected his output in the national team, Bizimana has burst into form again with series of fantastic displays for his new club FC Kryvbas in the Ukrainian Premier League.
The Rubavu-born defensive midfielder has featured in 13 league games this season providing one assist and went on to establish himself as a key figure at the heart of Kryvbas’ form.
Bizimana remains the orchestrator in the Rwandan midfield and his leadership as the new national team captain could add value to the country’s performance against Zimbabwe. If the former Waasland Beveren player exerts his authority in the game, he can propel his side to victory.
Despite Rwanda finishing at the bottom of Group L in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers, teenager Hakim Sahabo proved himself to be one of the revelations in the Amavubi set up.
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder assisted Gilbert Mugisha as Rwanda held Benin to a 1-1 draw in Cotonou as Rwanda.
In the youngster, Rwanda has a player who has the eye to give that “final” pass. Against Zimbabwe, he is expected to operate just behind the main striker as a number 10.
One moment of brilliance from the Standard Liege II wonderkid can decide the game. Currently, he is even playing professional football on Belgian Challenger Pro League and his maturity in the game has been improving.
The Rwandan forward will be going into the game against Zimbabwe with so much confidence against the back drop of his sterling performance for Sandviken IF in Sweden.
He scored 10 goals in Sweden in the just-ended 2023 season where his club secured promotion to the second league.
The former APR forward is capable of operating on both flanks, either as a supporting striker or as the main striker. With Rwanda struggling for goals in recent games and considering his fine form, Spittler might be tempted to use him as the number 9 against Zimbabwe.
He is physical, great technique and ability to dribble past defenders.
You can’t forget that Amavubi’s last win in a competitive match was thanks to his goal against Mozambique on March 24, 2021. Byiringiro can be the saviour again.
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