Cameroon’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final football match between Cameroon and Ghana in Franceville on February 2, 2017.
ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP
Watch out Africa, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are back. The team is back, big time, and better. Their victory last Sunday was no fluke. It was well fought for and well earned.
They may not have played the best football during the competition but they still won Africa’s most important and prestigious football championship by playing a very hard but very effective brand of football that is well suited to Africa – intimidating and subduing opponents with their physicality, frenetic pace, fighting spirit, a defensive strategy that worked and a winning attitude that came from only God knows where.
Something happened to the Cameroonian national team during Afcon 2017 that should interest scholars of African football. There was a seismic transformation of the team. When, how did the transformation happen?
On the eve of the championship no one gave them a chance. Every one knew that the Cameroonians were one of the least prepared teams, struggling to win any matches, embroiled in crisis with their football administration, an ageing ego-driven team of players at loggerheads with their federation over bonuses, and other such mundane matters.
These internal crises adversely affected morale in the team, and everyone thought they would extinguish the waning spirit of a team once renowned for its hard fighting, but now observed to be anything but indomitable.
When a few of the older familiar names in the national team walked away from the team and an unknown foreign coach from Belgium, Hugo Broos, that had never handled any national team before took over, any chances of the team winning Afcon 2017 evaporated before kick-off of the championship.
The ‘rookie’ coach had no option but to invite a relatively new set of young players from Europe (of course) to represent the country, use the championship to garner some experience and hopefully build up for the future. There was no pressure of any level of expectation by Cameroonians on the team. They had been written off by most.
Probably, that burden of pressure that the team did not have to carry enabled the players and their coach to find the psychological wind to lift them and to allow them express themselves without fear of any failed expectations on the field of play. Many of the players were attending their first African Cup of Nations.
That’s what makes their achievement even more special and spectacular. It was totally unexpected. Winning the championship, therefore, has boosted the image of the national team and the country, re-ignited the confidence of and in the team, produced a new generation of national team players still uncorrupted by egos for the next decade, and set a new standard as well as a target for the team going forward.
Nigeria Versus Cameroon – Who Goes To WC 2018?
‘Going forward’ means confronting the reality of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers where the Indomitable Lions trail Nigeria’s Super Eagles by four points after two matches in their group!
After the success at Afcon it will now be preposterous for any Cameroonian to imagine that the best national team on the African continent in 2017 will not be at the World Cup in Russia in 2018!
So, the battle shifts immediately back to Group B of the African qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup where Cameroon would find waiting a wounded Algerian national side, a depressed Chipolopolo of Zambia and a resurging Super Eagles that have been growing in confidence and performance since the campaign started last year.
A look at the group league table shows that the Cameroonians have a massive mountain to climb. That mountain, called the Super Eagles of Nigeria, will not be an easy one for them to climb.
The Lions will also realize that Nigeria are not Ghana, Senegal, Burkina Faso, or even Egypt, some of Africa’s best teams that got a taste of their ‘poison’ in Gabon!
Nigeria will pose a completely different kind of challenge. The history of their confrontations, the acrimonious rivalry between their two national teams, the battle of superiority and pride between the players of both countries, the ‘enmity’ between their respective supporters, all will add to the atmosphere of war that would pervade the two-legs of their showdown later in the year and have a bearing on the final result.
It is true that the Indomitable Lions have coalesced into an effective fighting machine and will now be more difficult for any team in Africa, including Nigeria, to defeat.
They are now emboldened by their Afcon success and will definitely march on to their confrontations with Nigeria with some confidence. The Cameroons have not lost any match yet in their Group B World Cup qualifiers even though they also have not managed to win any of their matches against Algeria and Zambia that were both defeated by Nigeria.
At the end of Afcon 2017, from virtually ‘nowhere’, the Indomitable Lions have risen to become the strongest team of the championship with the prospect of even becoming better as a result of the youthfulness of the players (average age of the team is 23, I am told) and the invaluable experience the team would gain in representing Africa at the FIFA Confederations Cup coming up later in the year.
What this means is that they will be automatic favourites to win the next Afcon to be hosted by them in 2019! Incidentally that would also be Cameroon’s second time of hosting the African championship. The first time they hosted in 1972 they did not even get to the finals. All their five Afcon championship victories were achieved away from home, a truly remarkable achievement.
The only country ahead of the Cameroun in terms of number of championships won at Afcon is Egypt with seven victories, two of them on home soil and three (2006, 2008 and 2010) consecutively!
Congratulations to the Indomitable Lions. It is great to have them back to re-ignite the fire of the World Cup qualifiers in Group B.