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.


Saudi figure skater nurtures Olympic dream

Malak Al-Shaya says when in the ice rink everything feels ‘magical’ around her. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 04 August 2020

Saudi figure skater nurtures Olympic dream

  • The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova

JEDDAH: A Saudi teen who picked up ice skating three years ago at a friend’s birthday party is now dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games.

“It all started at my friend’s birthday party three years ago where we ice skated and I fell in love with the sport. I started going every day after that. My mom signed me up for classes when she saw my love for the sport,” Malak Al-Shaya told Arab News.
She said: “My mom was the one that encouraged me. At that birthday party, my mom and the coach said I was a natural because I just went for it.”
She came 4th at the Houston Invitational 2020 in March. She said that she will work harder next year to win first place.
The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova who inspired her and even to get to the Olympics.
“I’ll work on ice and off ice. I want to be like Alexandra Trusova, who makes it look so elegant,” she said.

Gliding on the ice, Al-Shaya said she feels like everything is “magical.”
The young figure skater is aware that the sport is not the most popular in the Kingdom, but she encourages those wishing to master it.
“Just go for it. If you are willing to work hard you can achieve anything,” she said.
She has received a lot of encouragement on social media to pursue her passion in figure skating.
Al-Shaya’s mother, Eman Al-Damegh, shared her daughter’s love story. “At that birthday party, it was the first time Malak ever ice skated. After that, my kids used to ask me to take them ice skating every day,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Malak Al-Shaya won 4th place at the Houston Invitational 2020.

• Al-Shaya started ice skating three years ago.

• The teen’s coach says her speed is impressive, and it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is naturally able to control comfortably.

She said that her daughter came from a background, which lacked the facilities for the sport, but was “a natural” straightaway.
“She had never been ice skating before, she started it at such a young age. We used to live in Qassim where there were no ice skating arenas at all,” said Al-Damegh.
She added: “The moment Malak set foot inside the rink, she just took off. I was so surprised, she didn’t hesitate at all, she was so daring that day. And there I was wondering what would happen on ice (before she started).”
According to her proud mother, Al-Shaya has all the capabilities required for this sport and possesses the sense of daringness that skating requires.
The teen’s coach told Al-Damegh that her daughter’s speed was impressive, adding that it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is “naturally able to control comfortably.”