The In­domitable Lions are back

Weekly Trust - - Sport Xtra -

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 ego­driven 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 Cameroon 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.

FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino flanked by NFF pres­i­dent Amaju Pin­nick (R) and NFF Gen­eral Sec­re­tary, Dr. Muhammed Sanusi

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