by Alphonse Akouyu
Ivory Coast here we come! was the headline of one of Cameroon’s daily English newspapers the Guardian Post on September 12, 2023.
This was as a result of a 3-0 victory of the men’s football team over their Burundian counterparts. The final qualifying match for the African Nations Cup scheduled to take place in Ivory Coast early next year took place in the Roumde Adija Stadium in Garoua, located in the Northern part of the country.
In a country where football is a sport of national interest, this match was the talk of the day for newsrooms and editors. The consequences of Cameroon missing out on this prestigious tournament could have been devastating for everyone involved in the sport. And so, just like their qualification for the World Cup, they left it late.
Cameroon is without any form of doubt an African powerhouse when it comes to football. When the draws for qualification were made with the other group members being Namibia, Burundi and Kenya, whose participation was later canceled, it was expected that the country would cruise through the qualification stage. To the greatest dismay of fans, the team had a topsy-turvy run, meaning Garoua was a do-or-die affair.
The first half of the match was described as Burundi vs Andre Onana – the Manchester United goalkeeper denied the Burundians several goal scoring opportunities. Goals from Bryan Mbeumo, Christopher Wooh and emblematic captain Vincent Aboubakar in the second half ensured that the country which calls itself ‘le Continent’ in French will be on the plane to Ivory Coast.
Football in Cameroon is currently not in good health with problems both off and on the pitch. Off the pitch, global icon Samuel Etoo was elected President of the Football Federation in 2021 – promising to take the country’s football to higher heights. For a man who spent his career scoring goals, Etoo has found it a bit hard to score goals in the country’s football development with his critics accusing him of poor of leadership. A recent statement by the Confederation of Africa Football(CAF) about investigations coupled with a public outburst from one of the federation’s Vice Presidents have slowed down progress for the former Barcelona star. His followers have accused critics of refusing to accept change hence the reason for their constant criticism of Etoo’s leadership.
On the pitch, one of Etoo’s first moves when he became President was the appointment of former teammate and charismatic captain Rigobert Song as Head Coach of the men’s national football team alongside a host of former players as technical support staff.
Despite the late qualification for the Qatar World Cup, it was expected that Song would galvanize the team towards victory in Qatar, however a feud with Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana saw the keeper retire from international football.
When Song announced that Onana will be part of the Garoua expedition, fans were overjoyed and surprised. The goal keeper released a statement announcing his comeback with analysts believing that the Government may have played a role in this comeback and he proved his worth during the match.
Africa’s best will be in Ivory Coast come January 2024 and Cameroon will definitely be part of the story. For many, time for politics is over and it is now time to focus on the target which is to win the tournament and give joy to the fans and so Ivory Coast here we come!!!.