Onana eager to honor Cameroon’s rich goalkeeping heritage

Indomitable Lions are placing their faith in Andre Onana. (AFP)
Updated 29 June 2019

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.


Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race

Updated 22 January 2020

Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race

  • This new race represents an exciting organizational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders

JEDDAH: Sports chiefs are gearing up to announce the Saudi city venue for a new international cycling race set to take place in the Kingdom.

Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal is expected to reveal on Thursday that Riyadh will host the five-stage Saudi Tour 2020 from Feb. 4 to 8.

The inaugural edition of the 2.1 category race is being staged by Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the organizer of the world-famous Tour de France.

Details of the route in and around the Saudi capital were due to be released during a press conference at Riyadh’s Digital City.

The cycling event precedes the Tour of Oman (Feb. 11 to 16) which is facing cancelation following the death of Sultan Qaboos.

ASO chief executive, Yann Le Moenner, said: “We are involved in the emergence of a new racing scene in the Middle East, which corresponds to the riders’ demand at the beginning of the year.

“The creation of the Saudi Tour and its sustainable installation in the calendar is part of this movement. This new race represents an exciting organizational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders, and a nice opportunity for the television viewers who follow the race to discover new landscapes.

“This is also, for us, an occasion to contribute to the development of cycling across the Kingdom,” he added.

Saudi Cycling Federation chief Sabah Al-Kraidees said it was an “honor” to have the inaugural Saudi Tour, noting that the event would help to promote the Kingdom as a tourist destination.

“The Saudi Tour is a great opportunity to publicize the country’s varied territories and historic sites and to let visitors discover our sense of hospitality. This initiative fits perfectly with the ambition of Saudi Arabia to promote the Kingdom beyond its borders through sports and especially cycling,” he added.

The five-day event will feature stages in the hills around Riyadh and on urban circuits.

The Kingdom recently began issuing tourist visas after travel to the country was largely limited to pilgrims, business travelers and resident workers.