February 26th 2018

Sports / In-Depth

My lesson from Afcon 2017? Character and resilience are priceless

Cameroon's success at this tournament could not have gone without the notice of the relevant changes introduced into the squad by Belgian Tactician Hugo Broos.

By Thomas Matalangatmatalanga@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 08 Feb 2017 15:26 EAT

Unfancied Cameroon beat seven-time Africa Cup of Nations winners Egypt to bring to a close the 2017 Afcon earlier this week. The fact that the Indomitable Lions were not deemed favourites to win the tournament is even more a telling story of the immense preparations the West African nation put in its set of tasks that were to be accomplished in Gabon. Despite being the underdogs in 2017, Cameroon is one of the best perfoming nations in the continental showpiece with four previous titles in 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2002 to their name. Together with there most recent achievement on sunday their footballing prowess is as clear as it can be.

Afcon 2017 witnessed very shocking results for some of the fancied teams which even the best soccer analysts would not have thought would happen. Ivory Coast, the immediate former champions, exited the tourney without a single win to their name. Joining them on the same list was Algeria, which boasted of a very talented squad which included Leicester city duo Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez, as well as hosts Gabon who too were unable to get expected victories.

By the end of the group stage, the eight teams that had made it to the quarter-finals were a guarantee that the road to the finals would be tough yet in equal measure eye-catching. Senegal, ranked fist in Africa by FIFA, were beaten by Cameroon 4-5 on penalties, a victory in which 21 year-old shot stopper Fabrice Ondoa was key. Ghana had to dig deep into their arsenal to beat a resilient Democratic Republic of Congo while Egypt edged out fellow North Africans Morocco 1-0. Burkina Faso beat Tunisia 2-0 to book a spot in the semis.

Ghana were fancying an end to their 35-year-long wait for a continental title but were stopped in their tracks by Cameroon, who had failed to qualify for two of the prevoius three tournaments comfortably beating the Black Stars 2-0. Egypt on their part beat the Stallions of Burkina Faso 4-3 on penalties.

Cameroon's success at this tournament could not have gone without the notice of the relevant changes introduced into the squad by Belgian Tactician Hugo Broos. Young talents of Fabrice Ondoa, Christian Bassogog among others who surprisingly were playing in their first Afcon together with experienced players such as Vincent Aboubakar, Benjamin Moukandjo and veteran defender Nicolas Nkoulou proved to be a worthy investment despite being termed as the worst Cameroonian team in history.

Eight players had turned down call ups to the indomitable Lions' squad. Liverpool's Joel Matip and Schalke04's Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting are some of the players that failed to honour their call ups, yet despite that the inexperienced squad showed incredible tenacity to come from behind and beat the Egyptians. The Egyptians on their part were seeking an eighth continental trophy and a fifth for their 44 year-old Veteran Keeper Essam Elhadary who has won Afcon in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010. He was also the oldest man to ever play at in Afcon history.

All in all, the tournament was a success, despite earlier protests by some of the locals against the Gabonese government. I can't wait to see Cameroon defend their title in two year's time when they will host the showpiece.

Matalanga is a student of journalism at the East Africa School of Media Studies and an intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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