Onana eager to honor Cameroon’s rich goalkeeping heritage

Indomitable Lions are placing their faith in Andre Onana. (AFP)
Updated 29 June 2019
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Onana eager to honor Cameroon’s rich goalkeeping heritage

  • Cameroon have faith in 23-year-old goalkeeper Andre Onana

ISMAILIA: Following in the footsteps of Joseph-Antoine Bell, Thomas Nkono and Jacques Songo'o as the latest in a line of acclaimed Cameroon goalkeepers is no minor task, but the Indomitable Lions are placing their faith in Andre Onana, one of the season’s revelations in Europe, as they bid to defend their title in Egypt.

Remarkably, his season which started with Ajax last July in the second Champions League qualifying round is still not over.

Throughout a campaign equally gruelling as unforgettable, Onana has experienced it all — from an epic European adventure, featuring memorable matches against Real Madrid, Juventus and Tottenham, to a league and cup double.

But that’s not enough to satisfy the 23-year-old who is craving further success at the Africa Cup of Nations, as Cameroon look to defend their continental crown on July 19.

“Our goal is to bring this title back to Cameroon once more,” he said, ahead of his team’s opening 2-0 victory against Guinea-Bissau in Ismailia.

“It’s true it’s complicated and difficult, because we’re going to play against very good teams. But I think we’re going to succeed,” he said.

Unlike his cousin Fabrice Ondoa, a major architect behind Cameroon's run to the 2017 title, Onana wasn't in Gabon, a tournament played in its traditional January and February time slot, having preferred to focus on his club.

A fan favorite, Ondoa has since lost his place in goal, but he did earn the right to a song penned in his honour to celebrate his achievements.

“Fabrice and me, it’s family! We're different ... I don’t need a song, the most important thing is the title, both individually and collectively,” Onana said, refusing to draw comparisons between the two stoppers.

“If we bring it back to Cameroon, it will be something good for the country. Sporting victories form part of the stability of our country,” he added, with Cameroon, the original hosts of this year’s edition, stripped of the tournament last November after falling behind in preparations.

Blood relations aside, Cameroon's knack of consistently producing top goalkeepers in uncanny.

“It’s something innate in this country,” laughed Onana. “On a more serious note, it’s a good question! When you look at the history of Cameroon, it’s incredible all the same. We’ve had Bell, Nkono ... It’s thanks to the work put in by these people.”

For a former student at the Samuel Eto'o Foundation who passed through the Barcelona academy (2010-2015), the relaying of this know-how by former greats has played a decisive role in the spawning of a new generation.

“I was lucky enough to work with ‘Tommy’ Nkono (goalkeeping coach at Espanyol) with whom I learned a lot of things, Fabrice as well. We did little training camps and everything. It's normal to progress, especially when you play at the top level and you know the right people,” he said.

In the national team, Onana can call on a pair of Ajax legends to continue his development in Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert. The duo were appointed Cameroon's head coach and assistant respectively last August.

With three Ajax representatives in their ranks, it begs the question whether there is a temptation for Cameroon to adopt the Dutch giants' famous philosophy.

"It's difficult. It's clear we want to control the game, but African football has its own realities. It's hard to stay true to this philosophy because the state of pitches is not too favourable to that system," said Onana.

"But we will go to Egypt with our own way of playing, our 'winner mentality'," he added. It's certainly proved a recipe for success in the past with Cameroon triumphing in Africa's most prestigious competition five times, in 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002 and 2017.


Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev dies after fight against Subriel Matias

Updated 23 July 2019
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Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev dies after fight against Subriel Matias

  • Doctors operated to relieve pressure from swelling on his brain
  • Dadashev, known as “Mad Max,” was unable to walk to the dressing room and was immediately hospitalized

MOSCOW: Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev has died from brain injuries sustained in a fight in Maryland, the Russian boxing federation announced on Tuesday.
“Maxim Dadashev has died in the United States following injuries sustained during his fight with Subriel Matias,” the federation said in a statement.
The 28-year-old underwent emergency brain surgery in Washington after his super-lightweight bout with Puerto Rican Matias on Friday was stopped after the 11th round by his cornerman James “Buddy” McGirt.
Dadashev, known as “Mad Max,” was unable to walk to the dressing room and was immediately hospitalized.
Doctors operated to relieve pressure from swelling on his brain.
McGirt, who said after the fight he “couldn’t convince” his fighter to stop but opted to throw in the towel when he saw him “getting hit with more and more clean shots as the fight went on,” told ESPN on Tuesday he was wracking his brain wondering if he could have done things differently.
“It just makes you realize what type of sport we’re in, man,” McGirt told ESPN — which streamed the fight on its ESPN+ platform.
“He did everything right in training, no problems, no nothing. My mind is like really running crazy, right now. Like what could I have done differently? But at the end of the day, everything was fine (in training).
“He seemed OK, he was ready, but it’s the sport that we’re in. It just takes one punch, man.”
Russian boxing chief Umar Kremlev told Russian media that Dadashev’s body would be repatriated home and that his family would receive financial aid.
Dadashev’s widow, Elizaveta Apushkina, also issued a statement, confirming the fighter’s death “with great sadness.”
She said: “He was a very kind person who fought until the very end. Our son will continue be raised to be a great man like his father,” she said of the St. Petersburg-born fighter who trained in Oxnard, California.
Dadashev took an unbeaten 13-0 record into the 140-pound non-title fight.
Dadashev, whose manager Egis Klimas also handles Vasiliy Lomachenko and Sergey Kovalev, turned pro in April of 2016 and relocated to Southern California to pursue his ring ambitions, eventually signing with promoters Top Rank.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum issued a statement recalling Dadashev as “a terrific young man.”
ESPN, which streamed the bout on ESPN+, also issued a statement.
“Our heartfelt thoughts are with Dadashev’s family, friends, trainers and the team at Top Rank,” the statement said.
Dadashev was rated in the top five by two world sanctioning organizations going into Friday’s fight in suburban Washington DC, an elimination bout for the right to become mandatory challenger for Josh Taylor’s IBF title.
Matias dominated, and after the 11th round McGirt could be heard telling Dadashev “I’m going to stop it, Max,” even as Dadashev shook his head.
McGirt, himself a former two-weight world champion, then told the referee: “That’s it.”