Cameroon may have left Gabon with a fifth Africa Cup of Nations title in the bag, but their preparation was far from ideal.
Less than one year into his tenure as coach, Hugo Broos was already drawing criticism for an overhaul of the squad that saw him place his faith in youth over experience.
Cameroon had failed to qualify for the 2012 or 2013 AFCON editions, while they suffered a group-stage elimination in Equatorial Guinea two years ago. Broos was given little leeway upon taking over in February 2016 and his decision-making was quickly under intense scrutiny.
And when established stars including Liverpool defender Joel Matip and Schalke forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were among a group of eight players who snubbed the chance to represent their country in Gabon, the outlook for the Indomitable Lions was grim.
However, Cameroon lived up to that irrepressible tag, marching all the way to the final where they overcame seven-time champions Egypt to claim the continental crown.
— Fecafoot-Officiel (@FecafootOfficie) February 5, 2017
A strong mentality was key to overcoming their tribulations. Rather than dwelling on those who were missing, the circumstances saw a tight-knit group prevail – something that was not lost on Broos in the aftermath of Sunday’s 2-1 victory.
“I am happy for the group, for the players. This is not a group of football players, this is a group of friends,” he said.
The evidence provided in the final backs up Broos’ claim – Nicolas N’Koulou and Vincent Aboubakar came off the bench to provide the goals that saw Cameroon fight back from Mohamed Elneny’s first-half opener.
Rather than sulk about starting the match in Libreville among the substitutes with the Belgian coach preferring the inexperienced Robert Ndip Tambe, Aboubakar immediately set about making an impact following his second-half introduction. He held the ball up and brought his team-mates into the action, pushing them forward and putting pressure on an increasingly reserved Egypt.
The Besiktas striker capped a fine performance with a brilliant winner two minutes from time, controlling Sebastien Siani’s long pass on his chest before looping the ball over Ahmed Hegazy and volleying into the bottom-right corner.
— Marco van Basten (@MarcoVanBasten) February 5, 2017
Broos was in no doubt that the atmosphere in Cameroon’s dressing room had consequently played a pivotal role in their triumph.
“That’s why the players who are on the bench keep motivation. Against Senegal, against Ghana and today [Sunday] against Egypt, these players made the difference,” he said.
The title, which had seemed unlikely at the outset, vindicated Broos’ actions since taking charge – but he is not done yet. The Belgian believes he can get more out of his squad and push them to new heights.
“We have a team that is still not on the highest level. We can be better, but I think it is only the beginning,” said Broos.
The Confederations Cup in Russia this year will give Cameroon the opportunity to test themselves against two-time Copa America champions Chile, 2015 AFC Asian Cup winners Australia and World Cup holders Germany.
Such an experience will certainly hold Broos’ youthful and united side in good stead for future challenges.
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) February 5, 2017
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