Rwanda had never won a game at African Nations Champions (Chan), losing all three group matches at the 2011 edition in Sudan.
The Amavubi had also never beaten Ivory Coast in all competitions, losing four of the six encounters against the West Africans.
On Saturday at Amahoro Stadium, after a grand opening headlined by traditional Kinyarwanda dancers, heartstopping acrobatics and skaters doing rounds with national flags of the 16 competing countries, the pressure was immense. Long queues of disarmingly disciplined Rwandans had started snaking to the stadium at 11am Ugandan time and by lunch, the 30,000 capacity stadium filled to the rafters.
Among the tens of thousands of supporters was Rwandan President Paul Kagame and wife Jeannette, who received rapturous reception at every turn and wave. Hosts Sudan and South Africa had overcome home pressure to win their opening matches in 2011 and 2014 respectively.
Inaugural hosts Ivory Coast in 2009 had succumbed to that pressure, losing all three groups matches and finishing last in the pool.
They were Rwandan opponents here, and this time round the pressure was hugely on Amavubi coach Johnny McKinstry and his team to satisfy these football mad fans and country.
Man of the match Emery Bayisenge eased that pressure just inside 15 minutes when he beautifully curled a free-kick to Badra Ali Sangare’s left hand corner to send Amohoro into unconfined ecstasy.
Ivory Coast pushed for an equaliser in the second half as Rwandan legs grew feeble, Djedje Franck Guisa striking the upright.
Yet the hosts could have doubled their advantage midway the second stanza but Bayisenge’s low spot kick after a foul on a Rwandan player was impressively saved by Sangare.
That mattered little as Rwanda held on to win their first ever match in the competition, and crucially, deflate home pressure to set progression from the group into motion.
“First, we have managed to pick our first points (victory) in Chan and it is the first time we are beating Ivory Coast,” a measured McKinstry told the media at a post-match press conference, “Those two are very important.”
However, Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer dismissed the statistic with Rwanda saying there is “a difference between Afcon and Chan,” where different levels of players are used.
McKinstry added: “Of course being hosts comes with its pressure and we are relieved to have won.
“Supporters always want victory no matter who you are playing.
“We tried to take the pressure off the boys by camping and playing buildup games in Rubavu. “But when you walk onto the pitch you feel the desires of the 30,000 fans and the opening game is always the hardest.
“I’m glad the boys dealt with that pressure and now we can look to our next game against Gabon (Wednesday) to try and do our best to progress from the group.”
Rwanda will increase their chances of progressing with a point off Gabon, who held Morocco in Group A’s second match on Saturday. The Amavubi top the group with three points, with Gabon and Morocco on one each and Ivory Coast last.