Cameroon’s national football team will this Tuesday play an exhibition game to bid farewell to their fans before jetting-off to South Africa for the World Cup. It is a traditional game played between the 23 players selected for a tournament amidst song, drums and dance.
Many Cameroonian fans are so attached to this ceremony that they believe the team would ultimately have a poor showing if it does not play that game at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde. The current manager, Paul Le Guen, came under a barrage of criticism for scrapping this aspect of preparations ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
Whether or not this had an effect on the Indomitable Lions’ poor showing last January is a matter for diviners and religious people to tell. Now, Paul Le Guen has been “educated” to include this tradition in his programme for the World Cup.
“We were told that it is customary for the Lions to always play an exhibition match at the stadium in Yaounde,” Le Guen told a press conference in Yaounde on Monday.
“I’ve talked to the Cameroonian members of the staff who told me it is a good thing. I also spoke with the Minister of Sport and the president of FECAFOOT (Cameroon football federation) and I acceded to their request (for this customary stop),” the Frenchman added.
Whereas the tradition of leaving the players of the national team to meet family and friends 2 or 3 days before departure for a tournament dates back to the early ’80s, the exhibition match became a feature only in 1998 ahead of the World Cup in France.
The then coach, Claude Le Roy, had made wholesale changes in the squad and many of the players like Samuel Ipoua, Angibeaud Nguidjol, and Lauren Etame Mayer were unknown to the fans. The idea was to play a game in which the people could identify and commune with their team.
I remember that the fans barely knew Lauren’s name but were impressed by his display – and thus referred to him as “le sept” (the N°7 – his shirt number in that game).
The match has become a tradition especially as the bulk of Cameroon’s internationals play their club football in Europe.
With at good number of players of Le Guen’s 23 – Joel Matip, Ndy Assembe, Vincent Aboubakar – barely joining the team and some only obtaining clearance to play for Cameroon only a week or so ago – Maxim Choupo Moting and Gael Bong; it would be an opportunity for the very demanding crowd to judge and “bless”them.
The team captain, Samuel Eto’o has already warned the “new” Lions, particularly Choupo-Moting his young colleague of the attack line, about the importance and pressure of this ceremony.
“I told him that the most difficult match will be played tomorrow (today) at Mfandena (the neighbourhood of the stadium) during the farewell to the public…It is at Mfandena that all happens. Here at home we are all coaches,” Eto’o said in Cameroon Tribune, the state run daily.
This year’s “blessings” match, by design or coincidence, falls on 8 June – a date which has remained forever in Cameroon football history. It was on that day, 20 years ago, that the Lions defeated Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in Italy and put Cameroon on the world map.
Will the current pride of Lions be inspired by the exploits of their predecessors? Will they shine line Omam Biyick whose header gave Cameroon that famous victory? Cameroon has never crossed the group stages of the World Cup since 1990 – could Samuel Eto’o and team-mates do it this time?