Cameroon carries Africa’s hopes in the World Cup
Cameroon were held 1-1 by Panama on Friday in their last friendly match ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
Even with the draw, some fans back home rejoiced that the Indomitable Lion’s style of play has improved from their last game against Jamaica.
Africa has pinned its hopes on Cameroon, especially after Bayern Munich’s star forward, Sadio Mane was ruled out of Senegal’s squad for the world’s biggest football tournament that begins on Sunday.
Apart from Cameroon and Senegal, the other African nations to feature at the Qatar finals are Ghana, Morocco and Tunisia.
Mane, African Player of the Year, was ruled out through injury on Thursday.
His omission is a huge blow for the Teranga Lions, who had high hopes of making a long run in the tournament.
Mane suffered a shin injury while playing for Bayern Munich early this month but was named in the World Cup squad in the hope he could regain fitness in time. By Thursday, however, Senegal admitted that the former Liverpool player would not make it to Qatar.
“Today’s MRI shows that the improvement is not as favourable as we imagined and unfortunately we have to withdraw Sadio from the World Cup,” team doctor Manuel Afonso said on the official Senegal team Twitter account.
With Sunday’s kickoff looming, teams are still arriving in Qatar after completing last-minute preparations.
Senegalese international Pape Gueye said Mane would definitely be missed.
“He is irreplaceable,” Gueye said.
“But we do have other options on the flank, and that’s a ray of hope on a dark day for Senegal.”
Coach Aliou Cisse was optimistic but cautious when naming Mane in his World Cup squad a week ago.
“Losing Sadio Mane is not easy for a coach, for the team, even for African football,” Cisse said.
Mane had been in Munich receiving treatment with his club.
He led Senegal to victory in the Africa Cup of Nations when the Teranga Lions beat Egypt in the final at the Stade d’Olembe in Yaounde, Cameroon, on February 6.
Black Stars of Ghana
Ghana’s Black Stars also go to Qatar with hopes of improving on their performance of 2010 when they missed out of a place in the semi-finals, losing to Uruguay in Johannesburg, South Africa.
However, 2022 started on the low for the Black Stars.
After that horrendous output in Cameroon during the Africa Cup of Nations where the team exited the tournament with just a point – the team’s worst performance on this stage since 1984 – it left people with zero expectations heading into the World Cup playoff.
A qualification ticket to the “Mundial” at the expense of Nigeria did little to raise hopes. That was compounded by a drab performance against Brazil and Nicaragua in friendlies.
But, Thursday’s 2-0 win in Abu Dhabi against Switzerland, a team ranked above Ghana, sent the country into cheers.
Social media in Ghana was awash with messages of hope.
But like Senegal’s Cisse, officials are cautiously optimistic.
When people expect nothing from Black Stars, the team rises to the occasion.
That was the case in 2006 in Germany and 2010 in South Africa.
But Brazil 2014 was a different story. Many Ghanaians have not forgiven the team for demanding dollars over fighting for Kwame Nkrumah’s flag of pride.
But football fans are interesting – win and they will forget you held the country to ransom.
If the cheering on Thursday is anything to go by, Ghanaians are beginning to be excited about the prospects of this team.
The stars are back on the international stage to illuminate Africa and the world.
But with Mane’s sad exit from Qatar, the Indomitable Lions are most fancied to carry the continent’s hopes.
Cameroon is a football opium country. Though politics and management of state has not been great, Cameroonians believe football is a game changer.
Tunisian manager Jalel Kadri named his World Cup squad on Monday, with attackers Wahbi Khazri and Youssef Msakni leading the charge to reach the knock-out stage for the first time.
The North African nation, which is preparing for its sixth World Cup, will face France, Denmark and Australia in Group D.
The 26-strong squad features two stars of France’s Ligue 1 – Khazri of Montpellier and Montassar Talbi of FC Lorient – as well as Ali Abdi of Ligue 2’s Caen.
Two other Ligue 1 players – Saif-Eddine Khaoui of Clermont and Yoann Touzghar of AC Ajaccio – have been dropped from the squad.
Moroccan coach Walid Regragui called up Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech and Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi for his World Cup squad, confident the “Atlas Lions” will go all the way.
“We worked hard on this list with the staff. It si the best possible line-up to defend our colours,” Regragui told reporters in Rabat.
He admitted that some players would be disappointed at being left out, but said the team wants “to do something big”.
“We hope every Moroccan will be behind us,” Regragui said.
Ziyech, 29, returns for the Atlas Lions squad despite having announced his retirement from international football amid a dispute with former coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
But Halilhodzic, who had also sidelined Noussair Mazraoui for disciplinary reasons and qualified for the World Cup without them, left his job in August over what the national federation called “differences of opinion”.
That set up the return of former Morocco defender Regragui, just three months ahead of the first World Cup tournament in the Middle East.
He will attempting to lead the football-obsessed nation to its best World Cup result since 1986, when it became the first African country to get past the opening round.
Morocco are in Group F and will face 2018 runners-up Croatia, Belgium and Canada.
Songs leads Cameroon
Cameroonians hope Indomitable Lions’ coach Rigobert Song will lead the team with same spirit he led it as captain and produced some of the best results in the African Cup of Nations, World Cup and other events.
Analysts say a combination of Song and Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) President – another legend – Samuel Eto’o, will produce great results.
Franklin Sone Bayen, a football pundit and former reporter who has covered international competitions – including the World Cup – says the pair will use Qatar to compensate for their past errors.
“Eto’o the Cameroon FA president and captain of the Indomitable Lions and Rigobert Song, the team’s manager and former captain, are going to Qatar to make up for the mistakes they committed. These are two great players who led Cameroon to the worst World Cups,” Bayen said.
“Since Song came in 1994, they never had a great World Cup until they left in 2010.”
Among the Cups was in 2010 (South Africa) and 2014 in Brazil.
Eto’o was captain on both occasions though Song was not in the team in 2014.
“This is the chance as managers of Cameroon football to make up for the dents in our football image,” said Bayen.
Fans are also counting on Eto’o to be around the bench.
The FA boss has proved to be close the management of the team, being in the locker room during half time on match days and on the pitch during training.
“Watch how Anguissa and Choupo make a good link. Also, Choupo coming from the bench to get the lone goal for Cameroon in the friendly against Panama shows that with enough game time, he can provide the goals we need,” tweeted Macwalter Refor, a journalist and fan of the Indomitable Lions.
Cameroon in Qatar
The team has been sharpening claws in Qatar since leaving Cameroon on November 10.
During the traditional farewell game that featured mainly home-based players a day before departure, the Indomitable Lions settled for a 1-1 draw against Jamaica before a home crowd.
Song included two of the home-based players in his 26-man squad for Qatar, announced after the game.
Attackers, Marou Souaibou of Cameroon champions, Coton Sport of Garoua and winner of Cameroon Ballon d’Or for 2022 and Ngom Mbeleki of Colombe – an elite one side from Cameroon President Paul Biya’s native Dja and Lobo in the South region made the list which the head coach painstakingly pronounced some of the names.
The coach has since come under criticism for excluding long-serving defender, Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui, who has been described as the main pillar of the team from the World Cup squad.
Song, who did not give any explanation for his choices during a press conference to announce the squad in Yaounde, included defender Nicolas Nkoulou who has been absent from the team since announcing his retirement from international duty after they won the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Just before kickoff of the farewell game, the team was called upon to honourably represent the country in Qatar.
Handing over the country’s flag to the team on behalf of President Biya, the Minister and Director of Civil Cabinet at the Presidency, Samuel Mvondo Ayolo called on the players to defend the green-red-yellow colours.
“You are called upon to honourably represent Cameroon at the 22nd edition of the Fifa World Cup,” Mvondo said as he handed the flag to team captain, Vincent Aboubakar.
Besides dropping Ngandeu from the squad, Cameroon’s build up to the competition has been mired in controversies, including a feud between FECAFOOT and French kit manufacturer, Le Coq Sportif.
FECAFOOT contracted American kit supplier, One All Sports, early this year after terminating the contract of Le Coq which was to run till December 2023.
The French company resorted to court, accusing FECAFOOT of taking a unilateral decision.
Despite a Paris court ruling in favour of Le Coq, Eto’o went ahead to launch One All Sports kits. FECAFOOT had appealed the court decision.
“I hope the new jerseys will bring luck to the Indomitable Lions,” he said.
Additional reporting by AFP