In downtown Yaoundé, vuvuzelas echo from street to street. And on many taxis or on the back of motorcycles, the green, red and yellow flags in the colors of Cameroon flutter in the wind. A few hours before the start of the 33e African Cup of Nations (CAN), the Cameroonian capital is in jubilation.
The wait has been long for the city’s 4.1 million inhabitants. With three years late – following a first postponement in 2019 because the sports facilities were not ready and then a new delay of one year because of the Covid-19 pandemic – the biggest sports competition on the African continent begins on Sunday January 9 in Cameroon, a country where football is king.
Until the last few weeks, the continuation or not of the event remained uncertain due to the spread of the Omicron variant. This return of the prestigious competition in Cameroon, a first since 1972, is therefore experienced as the end of a long suspense, a relief for the inhabitants. “A month of celebration, we will live a month of celebration”, welcomes Didier, a telephone card salesperson. This parenthesis will allow him “To forget a complicated life and the worries of everyday life”, he said. It will last until Sunday February 6, because for all Cameroonians, there is no doubt: the Indomitable Lions, the first African team to play in the quarter-finals of a World Cup (1990), will add a sixth star in their jersey (after the victories of 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002 and 2017). With Algeria, reigning champion, and Senegal, finalist in 2019, Cameroonians are favorites and can count on stars such as Karl Toko-Ekambi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting or goalkeeper André Onana.
“Do everything to be there until the final”
“We have a heavy responsibility, recognizes Toni Conceiçao, Portuguese coach of the Indomitable Lions. The people would like the team to win, obviously we cannot guarantee victory, but I can say that the team will be at its best… We will do everything to be there until the final. ” For this first match, they will face a decimated Burkina Faso team. Positive tests for Covid-19 deprive the Stallions of five players including three holders, Saidou Simporé, Dango Ouattara and Oula Abass Traoré.
“In recent days, business has been going better. People buy because they want to encourage our team as much as possible, ”says Lions merchant.
On the side of the road that leads to the Olembé stadium in Yaoundé, where the CAN kick-off against Burkina Faso (5 p.m.), a saleswoman offers all kinds of gadgets (caps, jerseys, mufflers …) In the colors of the Lions. “In recent days, business has been going better, she said with a broad smile. People buy because they want to support our team as much as possible. “ Those who will come to the stadium – the ticket race was launched on Thursday throughout the city, particularly because of the 80% gauge that must be applied (60% for matches without the host country) – must be fully vaccinated and present a negative PCR test of less than 72 hours.
About ten kilometers from the city center is the Olembé stadium, a beautiful setting with 60,000 seats where the opening match will be played. On Friday, workers were still busy around the enclosure to finish the last arrangements. At the accreditation stand, the sesame was delivered in a few minutes by an army of young volunteers.
“The Lions cannot fall at home”
On the side of Garoua, capital of the North region, the atmosphere is still shy. In the arteries of this city which is home to the teams of Group D made up of Egypt, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, the flags of Cameroon and the nations hosted in Garoua are hung on ropes or poles. The first match between Egypt and Nigeria is scheduled for Tuesday January 11. For the moment, it is that of the Indomitable Lions which interests the inhabitants. At the BEAC crossroads, a dozen gadget sellers accost motorists at traffic lights.
« Buy! Support our indomitable Lions », Cries Moussa Aboubacar, wearing a hat in the colors of Cameroon and his hands loaded with flags. “ I started selling the 1is January accessories for all the teams who will play in Garoua but, since yesterday, it is those of Cameroon who are bought the most », Welcomes the young trader, mask under the chin. It is noon this Saturday and he has already sold two dozen hats and a dozen vuvuzelas. He hopes to quintuple his sales before the end of the day. Close to him, Ousmane Alim nourishes the same ambition and prepares ” above all The next day. ” Cameroonians like last minute things. They will come and buy en masse before the match », He assures us.
« The Lions will beat Burkina Faso by two goals to one, prognosis Mamoudou Ahmadou, hairdresser, who has just bought a mask in the national colors. I’m going to watch the game with my friends in a bar. » « Lions can’t fall at home, exclaims Guy-Laurent Tchounkeu, wrapped in a flag. I am proud that we are organizing the CAN at home! »
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CAN 2022: enthusiasm wins Cameroon on the eve of the launch