In Cameroon, football goes beyond a game. It is considered as an opium used by the regime of 90-year-old sit-tight Paul Biya to oppress the masses through stealing from the public purse while making them feel better about being oppressed.
Football is said to have the power to bring people together, regardless of their age, race, gender, culture, or nationality, and that can never be truer than what Cameroonians lived from January 9 to February 6, 2022, during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
In Cameroon, football is the king sport. It is the most played and watched sport, receiving loads of attention from the high and mighty in the country.
Cameroon, a country divided – with more than 250 ethnic groups and 26 million people – only came together for a brief moment thanks to the power of the AFCON.
Cameroon is yet to recover from the trauma of the war against Boko Haram in the Far North, the activities of highway robbers, the armed incursions in the East Region, the ethnic tensions caused by the 2018 presidential elections and the unending war in the North West and South West Regions.
The people of Cameroon are enduring the worst form of dictatorship ever known in recent times. President Biya, 90, has been in power for close to 40 years and within this time, peace and economic prosperity has remained a luxury. The people are living in hardship. But they dare not complain, lest they will join the others in prison.
These troubled and happiness-deprived Cameroonians could not afford to miss the joyous moments that come about all because of a game of football, especially during a history-making event like the AFCON. There was a special feeling in the air.
Cameroonians are happy that the country finally hosted the AFCON. Many were unsure that the country will be able to rise up to the occasion. The Olembe Stampede aside, Cameroonians can hide their shame of bad governance and perennial dictatorship in the consolation that they hosted Africa and Africa left happy.
Even the perception of the international media changed in the course of the competition. Many had used the COVID-19 and security situation in the country to cast doubts over the success of the tourney. But great was their delight that Cameroon could organised one of the best football feasts ever lived on the continent.
This time around, Cameroonians agreed that the problem is with Biya and not with their country. As such, they did all to make things work.
Lions showed strength of Cameroonian people
Booted out of the Semi-Final by an unconvincing Egyptian side, the Lions’, with the support of the Cameroonian people fought hard to secure a third place.
The fighting spirit of the the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon during the third place match against the Stallions of Burkina Faso revealed the strength of the Cameroonian people.
Cameroon, that was being embarrassingly led by 3 – 0 by Burkina Faso, scored three quick goals in the second half to bring the match to a draw at the end of 90 minutes. Since, according to the rules and regulations of the AFCON competition, there is no prolongation in a match for the 3rd position, Cameroon and Burkina Faso went straight to penalty shootouts, in which Cameroon won.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have not lost a match at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium since 1988.
Ecstasy engulfed Vincent Aboubakar (Captain), Toko Ekambi, Fai Collins, Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu, Frank Zanbo Anguissa, Samuel Oum Feet, Nouhou Tollo, Nicolas Ngadeu, Goalkeeper Andre Onana and their other colleagues of the Cameroon national football team, as well as the technical staff, including Head Coach, Antonio Conceiçiao, after the team won the 3rd position, and claimed the bronze medal of AFCON 2021, at home.
How Eto’o, Gov’t pampered, spoiled Lions with cash
FECAFOOT President, Samuel Eto’o Fils, and members of Government who were in the stadium, all joined the celebration for the 3rd position that Cameroon won. Some say the bronze medal was a consolation prize for Cameroon. Many had hoped that Cameroon will win the trophy, after they hosted the competition in 1972 and lost. The target was not met as the 1972 situation played out again.
The Government and FECAFOOT are even being criticised for the way they tried to use money as motivation for the Lions to win matches. Worth noting that, before going in for the semi-final match against Egypt, each player of the Cameroon national football team had officially grabbed a total of FCFA 100 million as match bonuses, for the country’s qualification for the knockout phase, and their victory at the 1/4 final.
Should Coach Conceiçiao … be sacrificed?
When the 2-year contract of the Head Coach of the Indomitable Lions, Antonio Conceiçiao, was renewed in September 2021, he was given two major missions to accomplish.
The first one was that Cameroon should reach the final of AFCON 2021. Many were surprised that the mission instead ended at reaching the finals, instead of winning. However, the demand that Cameroon should at least reach the final of AFCON was logical.
In as much as the real hope or target of the Government and FECAFOOT was that Cameroon should win AFCON 2021, the target set for Coach Conceiçiao was that in a situation where Cameroon failed to win the trophy, the country would have, at least, reached the final.
This would have been a consolation that though the Indomitable Lions failed to win the cup, there was at least an improvement by Cameroon as compared with the performance of the national team at the first AFCON that the country hosted in 1972.
Conceiçiao’s second mission was that Cameroon should qualify for the next World Cup to hold in Qatar later this year. As for that, Cameroon is scheduled to sort it out with Algeria late next month, for one of the tickets to qualify for the World Cup.
Many Cameroonians are beginning to question the Coach’s skills after the team’s performance at the AFCON. However, there are some other people that are arguing that it would be unwise to sack Conceiçiao now, with the crucial World Cup qualifying matches against Algeria around the corner.
After AFCON2021 match-days unity, Cameroonians now divided
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon that the Cameroonian people had hoped will win AFCON
2021, turned out to be a big disappointment to the people, as the team could not even reach the final. The Lions were knocked out at the semi-final by the Pharaohs of Egypt by penalty shootouts, at the Olembe Stadium on Thursday, February 3.
The Indomitable Lions thus woefully failed in the mission that was assigned to them by the country in AFCON 2021, which was to win the trophy and thus delete the painful memory in the minds of the Cameroonian people back in 1972, when the country hosted AFCON for the first time.
The 33rd edition of AFCON was the second of the continental football festivals to be hosted by the country and surviving football legends like Mbappe Leppe, Tokoto Jean Pierre, Roger Milla, Thomas Nkono, Samuel Eto’o Fils, Ndip Akem Victor, Geremie Njitap, among others.
This means that the second AFCON that Cameroon has just hosted, came after as many as 50 years or half a century, after the first ever AFCON that the country hosted. Unfortunately, the country again failed to win the trophy at home.
Many Cameroonians were confident that the Indomitable Lions will win the trophy. That hope crumbled on Thursday, February 3, 2022, when Egypt trashed Cameroon at the semi-final game of the competition. Cameroon has won the African Cup of Nations five times, and occupies the second position after Egypt.
This was an opportunity for Cameroon to grab its sixth AFCON trophy.
It is not only the Male AFCON that Cameroon has hosted and lost in recent years. In 2016, Cameroon hosted the Female AFCON, but was beaten at the final that was played at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde by Nigeria.
The country thus had to console itself with a Silver Medal. In 2021, that is, last year, Cameroon hosted the African Nations Championship commonly known by the French acronym, CHAN, and also lost.
Cameroon, which was beaten at the semi-final by Morocco, could not even win the match for the 3rd position.
Meantime, President Biya has definitely taken the pains most, to see Cameroon host AFCON, and at the end, he has to personally handover the trophy to another country. He painfully did it in 2016 when Cameroon hosted the Female AFCON. The President delegated the Prime Minister to represent him at the final of CHAN last year.
This time, President Biya painfully had to personally do it again at AFCON 2021.
As the AFCON closed on Sunday, the unity among Cameroonians has now faded as they now face their problems at their various ends. The war in the North West and South West Regions remains. The country may never be united, like they do for football, to see its end.