The curtains recently fell on this year’s edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) held in Gabon, with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon winning the coveted trophy. The Lions beat their Egyptian opponents, the Pharaohs, 2-1, in a pulsating final at Libreville watched by the greats of African and world football. No one gave Cameroon any chance at the start of the football fiesta, so it was a huge surprise that they rose above all odds to win it.
We salute the doggedness, team spirit and the unity of purpose of the Indomitable Lions which enabled them to soar above daunting odds to the summit of African football for the fifth time. Only Egypt, whom they beat in the final match, has a better record, with seven trophies so far.
The AFCON 2017 in Gabon was, on the whole, a good outing for African football, even without Nigeria. The fears that the absence of the Super Eagles could lead to a lowering of the quality of the game came to nought. The finals lived up to expectations in the main, except, perhaps, for poor attendance at match venues and some of the bad playing pitches on offer. Poor turnouts at the finals are fast becoming a familiar feature of AFCON competitions, especially when the host nation gets knocked out of the competition at the group stages.
The Cameroonian national team was particularly impressive. Entering the AFCON on a worrisome note occasioned by the late withdrawal of about eight of its key players, not much was expected from the team. But, the players turned adversity into advantage by rallying themselves into a team of “23 friends, fighting together” on the field for themselves and their country, as their no less indomitable coach, the Belgian, Hugo Broos, put it.
The Lions lived up to their appellation, improving match by match, and drawing on their famed football philosophy of strength, hard work, energetic exertions and the never-say-die spirit. Perhaps, only they and their mercurial coach, who had enough belief to apply for the job on the internet in the first place, believed in their ability to triumph at the continental football event.
There are parallels between the success of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the fairy tale ascendancy of Leicester City Football Club in the English Premiership in the 2015/2016 season, and Portugal at the last Euro 2016. It is the gripping story of the underdog, in spite of all odds, going on to shock the bookmakers and conventional wisdom. The Lions’ feat is even bigger, considering that its tested professional players opted out of the competition.
This allowed the Lions to bring up a new batch of champions that were previously unknown. For example, Bassongo, who emerged the most valuable player (MVP) of AFCON 2017 was, as recent as last year, plying his trade in the lowly fourth tier of American soccer. That, by all means, is a remarkable achievement and the stuff of which legends are made. There are many others in the team who were making their appearance on the national and continental stage for the first time. It goes to cement the long held belief that names do not play football. Teams do.
There are lessons for Nigeria and the Super Eagles to learn from the recent triumph of the Lions. First, it is that we must now be on the watchout as the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier coming up in August between us would take on added significance, and would be played under a different atmosphere. The Lions would enter the contest with the psychological boost of being African champions and that will count for something. But, it is good that our coach, Gernot Rohr, anticipated this possibility and was on ground in Gabon to study them throughout the competition. We expect that the gains would go into our own preparations for the crucial matches and hopefully, help us to prevail.
It will be a shame if we missed out on the last two successive AFCON competitions and, again, on the next World Cup. That is why the Federal Government and our football authorities should do everything that is required to ensure that the Super Eagles qualify for the global football Mundial in Russia and the next edition of AFCON in 2019, which Cameroon, incidentally, will host.
Once again, we congratulate the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on their most unlikely triumph at AFCON 2017. They are worthy African champions, indeed, and we wish them more successes in the future.