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Rwandan 'Wasps' hope to sting England

sports Updated: Jun 18, 2011 13:12 IST

AFP
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Rwanda appear on the international football stage for the first time on Sunday when they face England in the FIFA world junior championship.

Match venue Pachuca is 95 kilometres north east of Mexico City and a fitting setting as it was there that English miners introduced the "beautiful game" to the Central American country more than a 100 years ago.

The 'Junior Wasps' secured a place at the 24-team tournament by finishing runners-up behind Burkina Faso in the eight-nation African finals early this year.

While sceptics believe Rwanda owe their debut at a FIFA world tournament to the fact that they hosted the African championship, France-born coach Richard Tardy begs to differ.

"We intend making life difficult for our opponents," the 60-year-old native of Marseille told Rwandan reporters. "I have set a target of reaching the second round at least."

Finishing among the top two in a pool completed by Canada and Uruguay would achieve that objective and even third place might suffice with four of the six countries occupying that position also advancing to the knockout phase.

Tardy says his 'Wasps' are on more than a football mission in Mexico - they are ambassadors for a country that created worldwide headlines in 1994 when a tribe-based genocide claimed an estimated 800,000 lives within four months.

"We must present a good picture of Rwanda," stressed the Frenchman who has just signed a two-year contract extension and seems to be revelling in his development role.

"Coming to Mexico is the start of the future and I see the young footballers as symbols of a new Rwanda because they will alter the mindsets of people around the world."

President Paul Kagame is the number one supporter of the 'Wasps' and watched them defeat Ivory Coast and lose to Burkina Faso as the African championships reached a climax before 30,000-plus crowds at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali.

World junior championship squads are restricted to 21 footballers and Tardy selected 15 locals, three playing in Uganda and one each from Belgium, England and France.

Alfred Mugabo is a 1.83-metre striker with famous London club Arsenal and while none of his team-mates made the England squad, there are starlets from Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Key players in the Rwandan squad include captain Emery Bayisenge, fellow defender Faustin Usengimana, midfielder Mwesigye Tibingana and striker Justin Mico.

Bayisenge from the Federation Rwandaise de Football Association academy in a Kigali suburb stressed the serious mood among his team-mates as the moment of truth draws close.

"We are not looking at the world junior championship as just an adventure. We are in Mexico to win. People may consider us underdogs, but we want to make Rwandans proud of us," he said.

A three-month build-up included matches in Rwanda, France and the United States with Tardy needing a longer period than rival coaches because many of his squad lack competitive match practice.

Burkina Faso, Congo and Ivory Coast are the other African challengers for a trophy lifted by Switzerland two years ago while former title holders Ghana and Nigeria are surprise absentees having failed to reach the African finals.