After Nations Cup triumph, Cameroon looks to future
Cameroun celebrated the most improbable of victories at the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday, which Coach Hugo Broos hoped would pave the way towards a bright future for his team.
The Indomitable Lions showed remarkable character to come from behind and beat Egypt 2-1 in a brilliant game at the Stade de l’Amitie in Libreville with Nicolas Nkoulou and Vincent Aboubakar scoring to spark wild celebrations.
It was the first time a team had come from behind to win the final since 1994 and it was a first continental title for Cameroun since 2002, their fifth in total.
The triumph, witnessed by a crowd in the Gabonese capital made up of a majority of Camerounians, completed a remarkable journey for a side who had been written off prior to the tournament.
Eight players, notably the Liverpool defender Joel Matip and the Schalke striker Eric Choupo-Moting, had refused call-ups to the squad, leaving Broos to work with a young and inexperienced side.
That team had already eliminated the hosts Gabon, much-fancied Senegal and Ghana en route to the tournament finale, where they claimed Cameroun’s first win against Egypt in a Cup of Nations final at the third attempt.
“I brought in some new young players and we started working. We did a good job and now today we have a team,” said Broos after Sunday’s match.
His man management has been remarkable and on Sunday it was notable that two substitutes scored the goals.
Nkoulou, the Lyon defender, started only once during the tournament and came on as a first-half replacement for the injured Adolphe Teikeu.
Aboubakar, the powerful centre-forward currently playing for Besiktas in Turkey, also started only one game in Gabon, but he had scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Senegal in the last eight and his winner in the final was stunning.
“It is the best way to win a final. I think we took a bit of a blow to the back of the head in the first half but the substitutions changed the match in the second half,” said the forward Clinton N’Jie.
Defender Michael Ngadeu, one of the stars of Cameroun’s run, heaped praise on his Belgian coach, under whom the Indomitable Lions have been beaten just once since his appointment last year.
“He is a magician. The team has been reborn under him,” said the Slavia Prague defender, who scored the opener in the semi-final against Ghana.
“A lot of them didn’t believe in him, I’ll admit. A lot of Camerounians criticised him. But today I think he is the hero. He should get a medal for what he has done.
“He has given us this solidarity, this mentality. He has given us a ‘joie de vivre’.”
Cameroun were the first African nation to make a major impression at the World Cup and for a long time were the leading footballing force on the continent, but those days had seemed behind them following recent struggles.
Their last Cup of Nations final appearance had been in 2008, when a side featuring Samuel Eto’o lost 1-0 to Egypt in Accra, Ghana.
Eto’o, now 35, was among the crowd in Libreville on Sunday and later tweeted: “Champions of Africa!! Today the Cup of Nations, tomorrow the Confed Cup!!!”
Cameroun will now represent Africa at the Confederations Cup in Russia in June, where they will be in a group with Chile, Australia and world champions Germany.
They have a crucial double header with Nigeria to come in August and September as they look to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and they will also host the next Cup of Nations in 2019.
“We are still not on the highest level. We need to be much better, but it’s already a great beginning,” said Broos.
“It’s true that when I came to Cameroun nearly a year ago I found a group of players who were old, not motivated, so I had to change that,” Broos said.
“The players were not coming to play for Cameroun, they were going because they had to, because the coach asked them to come.
“So I brought in some new young players and we started working. We did a good job and now today we have a team.
“We are still not on the highest level. We need to be much better, but it’s already a great beginning.
“I am very happy that we won the Cup of Nations today and I am happy for the players — this is not a group of football players, they are a group of friends.”
Broos added that he needed to have some strong words for his players at the interval after a first half in which Egypt were on top.
The Egyptians led through a Mohamed Elneny goal midway through the first half but Nkoulou levelled just before the hour and Aboubakar won it with two minutes left.
“I think in the first half we were tactically not in good positions. The midfield was dominated by Egypt and we had some positional mistakes,” Broos said.
“It’s very difficult to change that during the game so at half-time I told them what they had to do and they did what I asked of them.”
•Culled from AFP.