2021 AFCON: Can Cameroon Lift the Trophy on Home Soil?
After an astonishing 2021 AFCON draw in Yaoundé that created buzz around the globe, expectations are high from fans of the Indomitable Lions that their team will triumph on home soil.
There has been a real sense of anticipation since the draw was conducted on Tuesday night. Cameroon were drawn against Cape Verde, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso whom they face in the opening game at the Olembe stadium on January 9, 2022.
It won’t be the first time the host will clash with any of her three group A rivals. Despite recording an impressive number of wins, they have also had their fair share of heartbreaks over the years.
Looking back with optimism
For the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon has not suffered any major upset in the group stage.
The last time they failed to advance to the knock-out stage was in 2015, when they finished bottom of group D. They were denied the top spot after narrowly losing to eventual winners Ivory Coast 1-0. The Lions could only manage two points from their first two games against Mali and Guinea.
But the narrative changed in 2017. Despite fielding an unfamiliar squad, the Indomitable Lions cruised to the quarter-finals finishing second of their group undefeated.
They held Burkina Faso to a stalemate (1-1), defeated Guinea (2-1) and drew with host Gabon (0-0) who later crashed out. That year, Cameroon repelled the spirited opposition from Senegal in the quarter-final, Ghana in the semi-final and eternal rivals Egypt in the final to claim their fifth continental title.
Two years later, the story was much similar although the Lions failed to retain their trophy in Egypt. Drawn in group F, Cameroon led by Clarence Seedorf, made a decent start beating Guinea Bissau (2-0) in the group opener.
Yaya Banana and Stephane Bahoken who scored against the Djurtus were the country’s lone players on the score sheet during the group stage. Their next two games against Ghana and Benin ended goalless. For successive years, Cameroon finished unbeaten in an AFCON group phase, similarly coming second of their group just as in 2017.
But this time, their impressive run ended when they lost to Nigeria who completed a stunning comeback to win 3-2 in an exhilarating game in Alexandria.
Legends Positive for Cameroon
Overcoming group A rivals, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Cape Verde untroubled, will be a big test.
Conceiçao’s Cameroon is the better ranked nation than any of its rivals from the group. They are the 8th best ranked nation in Africa as per the latest FIFA men’s World ranking released on August 12, 2021.
Burkina Faso placed 11th come closest, while Cape Verde occupy the 15th spot. Ethiopia, the lowest ranked nation of the group are the 40th ranked nation on the continent.
But these rankings should not be reason to make merry. Discount any of these nations at your own peril.
“There is no reason for Cameroon not to qualify for the second round. If we are already afraid of Cape Verde, then I doubt how far we can go. We have a group that can permit us to score points before meeting some of the toughest teams in the tournament,” said former Cameroonian legendary shot-stopper Joseph Antoine Bell.
Besides their rankings, Cameroon shares a familiar story with these nations. They will face Burkina Faso for the 10th time, having won four of their last games. They have lost just once against the Stallions with four draws.
Ethiopia on their part are featuring at the AFCON for the 12th time. But have met with Cameroon only twice and are yet to win against the West African giants.
In 1962, they won the AFCON but since then success has been elusive. Regardless of their status in the group, they are no pushovers.
Cape Verde will make their third participation at the AFCON finals next year. The Blue Sharks have been a hard nut to crack for the Lions.
Cape Verde finished runner-up of their qualifying group with 10 points. In March, they thrashed Cameroon 3-1 having held them to a virgin tie during the first leg in Yaounde. They will be meeting for the seventh time. In their last six encounters, Cameroon has won thrice, drawn one and lost two.
Will fortunes change 50 years after?
Cameroon will host the AFCON for the first time since 1972. The Central African nation is the second most successful nation of the continent with five trophies. Only Egypt has won more (7).
However, they are yet to clinch the title on home soil.
Like any other title aspirants, the Indomitable Lions are poised to win the coveted trophy. Anything short of that host will be agonizing to the fans.
“When I look at the draw, I can say we have the opportunity to go past the first round because as compared to other groups, we are somehow favourites. But football has its realities and it’s on the field of play,” former captain Rigobert Song intimated.
Another legend, Samuel Eto’o, says “the groups are balanced particularly for team Cameroon. The question I will be asking myself is though knowing that we are in a good group and have an excellent coach, is how the issue of pressure is going to be managed knowing that we will be playing in front of 26-27 million Cameroonians.”
“I believe our young teammates will better manage the pressure, so that we get to the final and the Cameroonian people emerge victorious,” concluded the four-time African Player of the Year.
Winning titles on home soil is not in the tradition of Cameroon.
In 2016, they hosted the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations and lost to record champions Nigeria in the final.
Early this year, Cameroon hosted the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN), a competition reserved for home based players and crashed out in the semi-final, losing to Morocco who went on to win the trophy.
It remains to be seen if they will turn the tides this time around.
By Beng Emmanuel.