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.


Al-Hilal win Riyadh derby to edge closer to 16th title win

Updated 36 min 24 sec ago

Al-Hilal win Riyadh derby to edge closer to 16th title win

  • In their first game after a five-month break because of the pandemic, the league leaders enjoyed a comfortable 4-1 victory over their closest rivals

RIYADH: Al-Hilal took a major step toward regaining the Saudi Professional League (SPL) on Wednesday as they secured a 4-1 victory over reigning champions Al-Nassr in a top-of-the-table clash at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium.

The league leaders went into the Riyadh derby six points clear of their city rivals, knowing that a win would strike a decisive blow in the title race. A record 16th championship now looks inevitable, barring an unforeseen — and unlikely — collapse.

The SPL, like all other sporting events in the Kingdom, was put on hold on March 14 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The competition resumed on Tuesday with five matches, and Al-Hilal’s triumph the following night completed the season’s 23rd round of games. Seven matches are now all that separate Al-Hilal from another title. Games are being played behind closed doors, with no spectators.

Al-Nassr, who were unbeaten in four games against their opponents, started off on the front foot, adopting a high-pressure approach that seemed to be disrupting Al-Hilal’s build-up play. Nevertheless, it was Al-Hilal who broke the deadlock with a goal on 35 minutes, as Sebastian Giovinco delivered a firm finish after collecting Mohammed Al-Breik’s low cross.

With the last move of the half, however, Al-Nassr equalized through a fierce strike by Sultan Al-Ghanam. Goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf got a hand to the ball but could not prevent it crashing into the roof of the net.

Nine minutes after the break, Al-Hilal went ahead for a second time when Bafétimbi Gomis dispatched a penalty past Brad Jones, celebrating the goal in his unique, crawling style. This time, the lead would not be relinquished.

Five minutes later, Carlos Eduardo looked to have settled the match when he grabbed Al-Hilal’s third after some questionable defending.

Al-Nassr briefly improved after falling two behind, however, and on 66 minutes Nordin Amrabat was presented with a golden opportunity to cut the deficit in half after skipping through the Al-Hilal defense, only for his shot to be deflected wide for a corner.

With just over 10 minutes left, a superb cross by Salem Al-Dawsari was expertly dispatched by Gomis to put the result beyond any doubt and assure Al-Hilal of a nine-point lead in the SPL.

“After a long break you must come back strongly,” Al-Dawsari said. “We have high expectations, regardless of whether we had won or lost the match. As you saw today we achieved the win and we still have bigger ambitions to go for the title.”

Al-Dawsari played a part in two of the goals and stood out as one of the fittest-looking players after the lengthy hiatus.

“I’m a professional player and during the break I was expected to look after myself,” he said. “The league was not over. So you have to set your own fitness schedule.

“Yes, the break was long but our coaching staff were watching us and our training was ongoing throughout. After the long disruption we had a duty to entertain our fans, especially in a derby match. Today we put on a performance worthy of Al-Hilal. It’s sad to play big matches like this without fans but hopefully they will be back soon.”

Al-Hilal defender Ali Al-Bulaihi echoed these comments, praising his team-mates for their superior fitness and confidence.

“Our preparation meant we came back strongly after the break,” he said. “We were confident we would put on good performance and that showed in the result.”

He acknowledged, however, that a few defensive lapses could have cost the league leaders.

“We’ve been working recently on our defending,” he added. “If you notice, Al-Nassr’s few dangerous attacks came from our mistakes. Hopefully we can avoid that in the future.”

While Al-Bulaihi refused to be drawn on whether he believes the title is now all but secured, Al-Hilal fans will already be planning their celebrations after such a comprehensive victory over their closest challengers.

Earlier in the day, Al-Shabab enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 victory over fourth-placed Al-Wehda to end the day in seventh spot, while a first-half goal was enough to secure an away win for ninth-placed Ettifaq against bottom-of-the-table Al-Adalah.