Photograph — SPORTAL

As Cameroon romped to the title on Sunday, through sweat and extraordinary show of strength, the images of the Cameroon of old kept flashing through my mind. The obstacles and a thorn the Cameroon of Patrick Mboma, Rigobert Song, Samuel Eto Fils, and Geremi Njitap proved to be in the flesh of the Eagles, the Green and the super eagles of Nigeria created a deep fear and an involuntary respect for the side I grew up to know.

Apart from the Nigerian cult heroes of Rashidi Yekini, Tijani Babangida, Finidi George, growing up, the popular names amongst football lovers in the country happened to be those of Cameroonian players. It wasn’t just about the players; it was about the team that had long been a force on the continent, especially with the likes of Samuel Eto’o Fils and Patrick Mboma. These two players gave me nightmares in my childhood. They were always there to stop Nigeria. At some point, to weigh Nigeria’s chances of winning a competition, I would ask if Cameroon would be in it.

The influence they had, however, began to wane, first when Rigobert Song and Geremi Njitap announced their retirements after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Then the country’s record goalscorer, Samuel Eto, retired from the team a couple of years later in 2014. Having no immediate replacements for their retired players, especially Samuel Eto’o, who had on a number of occasions carried the team through hurdles with pride and exceptional brilliance, the West African nation went from being INDOMITABLE LIONS to just being LIONS whose indomitability depends on the quality of the opponents. With time, they faded into near oblivion, relying on past glory, just like Nigeria, as Algeria and Ivory Coast established themselves as the best sides on the continent, with Ghana often the third best.

The Indomitable Lion missed the 2012 and the 2013 editions of the AFCON, while also woefully exiting at the first round of the 2015 edition. The unfavourable record, coupled with their recent trend of results which has left them second best in their World Cup qualifying group behind Nigeria, not many people tipped them to go beyond the first knockout stage. Even if there was going to be a Portugal-like champion at AFCON, for most people, Cameroon was not in the picture.

The Cameroonian team appeared undone when eight of their biggest stars turned down the chances to represent the team at the 2017 AFCON, a number of them citing political unrest in the country as the reason. At that point, it dawned on most people that Gabon 2017 was only going to be just another AFCON for Cameroon. The absence of Liverpool’s Joel Matip and Schalke’s Chupo-Moting among others left Hugo Boos with a team terribly lacking in experience, but not in will and passion.

Much to predictions of pundits, their first two games showed a team struggling with understanding the basics of the coach’s system. People were quick to say they would be doing better if they had their best players. The third group game however sent across a strong image of a team that could go far as they produced a composed performance to secure their passage to the knockout stage at the expense of host nation, Gabon. The team which had more of passion than experience showed for the first time in the competition flashes of what could be called a proper team. And from there, it only got better.

They went past tournament favourites Senegal and Ghana on their way to meeting a mountain of pyramids from Egypt in the final. A phenomenal second half display against Egypt, saw Cameroon become the Champions of Africa for the fifth time, establishing their INDOMITABILITY once again. In doing that, they ended Egypt’s and legendary goalkeeper El Hadary’s  13-year record of not tasting defeat.

Their female football team, the Indomitable Lionesses, however, remained a force, though often as third best behind Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea in the female category while their male counterparts were struggling for relevance between 2010 and 2015.

A couple of months ago, the Indomitable Lionesses were on the corridor of same achievement as their male counterpart, on their home soil, only for the Super Falcons of Nigeria, who were undoubtedly the best side in the tournament, to stop them. Howbeit, they came second in an encounter and tournament where they proved worthy opponents for the free-scoring Nigerian team.

With a nation that had only but its past glory to rely on for years, coming out of the periphery to own the centre stage in two separate continental competitions within months, Cameroon is sending a strong message of rebirth to other African superpower footballing nations. For a team who had only 26 caps between its starting eleven in the first group game, and missing at least eight top team players to emerge winners, Cameroon might be just about returning to what they used to be.

Cameroon had in recent years been known to be a team that thrives not on beautiful football for passion and strength, and at the just concluded AFCON, they showed just that, adding beauty to it in the latter stages of the competition. Benjamin Mukaoundjo showed himself to be a descendant of the passionate skippers Cameroon had always had. Player of the tournament, Christian Bassogog and star striker, Aboubacar showed through the tournament that they were what Cameroon needed to get the job done. Having time still very much on their hands, Bassogog and Aboubacar will prove to be mercurial to the Cameroon team that we will be seeing in coming in the remaining rounds of the World Cup qualifier.

While this is not to say the indomitable lions have arrived yet, their renaissance as of now, is unarguable.

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