The improvement has been a steady and continuous one with the beginning of the curve coming upon the arrival of Englishman Stephen Constantine, who was unveiled as the new coach in May last year. Constantine, whose other national team appointments had been Nepal, India, Sudan and Malawi, immediately found results as his side knocked out highly regarded Libya in the first round of qualifying for the 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and found themselves ranked 109th in July. Constantine's team then knocked out Congo in a penalty shoot-out during the second round of qualifying and won 1-0 in an international friendly in Gabon.
Turning bad into good
For many years, the Amavubi made use of naturalised players and the only time the team qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations – in 2004 – the team was built around the likes of Ugandan-born Jimmy Mulisa and Joao Rafael Elias, who grew up in Angola and Belgium, scored Rwanda's first-ever Nations Cup goal in a 2-1 defeat against hosts Tunisia. Another naturalised Rwandan was goalkeeper Ramadhani Nkunzingoma, who even played against the country of his birth: Congo DR.
When Constantine took over, the team was less dependent on naturalised players, but some remained. One of them was Daddy Birori, who was born in the capital of Congo DR, Kinshasa and his inclusion in the game against Congo led to Rwanda's elimination after it was found that Birori had played under two different identities. The shock of being thrown out of the showpiece event of African football prompted football officials in Kigali to take drastic action. Together with the Ministry of Sport, they decided that the team would focus on home-grown talent, forcing Constantine to field a largely inexperienced and youthful side, with an average age of 22, in a friendly against Morocco in November.
In the match against the Atlas Lions, Constantine gave debuts to seven players and they, in turn, responded by giving him an impressive performance, holding the former African champions to a shock scoreless draw and prompting renewed belief in the development of Rwandan football. The positive step saw the Amavubi move even further in the rankings and at the end of the year, Rwanda occupied 68th place in the world, and they have since moved to their best-ever position: 64th.
Rwanda did, however, fall victim to their own success, so to say, as their improvement was noticed not only in Africa, but worldwide. Thus the Indian FA, searching for a successor to Dutchman Wim Koevermans, turned to Constantine who had previously been in charge of the Blue Tigers between 2002 and 2005. “Stephen’s work with Rwanda and his understanding of Indian football cannot be ignored,” an AIFF official said at the time, explaining why they had lured Constantine back to Asia.
Rwanda officials then appointed technical director Lee Johnson as interim coach and a short while later, former Sierra Leone coach Johnny McKinstry was given the task of coaching the side at the 2016 AFCON, which the country is hosting.
In the first post-Constantine match, against Zambia at the end of March, Johnson picked four of the players that played their first game against Morocco, suggesting that the development, which was started under Constantine and brought the constant climb up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, is being continued.