The Lions are in!
On Sunday, the Indomitable Lions, Cameroon’s national football team, defeated Tunisia 4-1 in a knockout game at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, here in Yaounde. So Cameroon will be going to the Really Big Dance in Brazil next June, la Coupe du Monde.
They were dancing in the streets in Yaounde. The World Cup is a very big deal here, and just about everywhere else in the world too.
I wandered up to George’s neighborhood store on Sunday afternoon where about 25 football fans, men and women, all ages, attired in Cameroon green and yellow, were outside watching the game on a TV set up on the porch. Cameroon scored early and late, and there was much celebrating.
I communicated with the international gestures of celebration — high fives ... and beer-drinking.
Now we have six months of training, preparation, and hype before the actual games begin in June, just about the time we return from our Africa sojourn. I intend to be ready, so I asked three of my students here the American School of Yaounde (ASOY) to handicap the Cup for me from their own partisan perspectives.
Jordi Ngale, Max Ramaekers, and Jackson Barratt Heitmann are all seniors who play on the ASOY soccer team (“soccer” because it’s an American school), which just wrapped up its season by winning the championship of its own invitational tournament.
Jordi Ngale is a Cameroonian, francophone, who plans to study in a business program in the States next year. His goal is to return ultimately to work in his father’s business, and serve in the Parliament. Here’s his assessment of Cameroon and the World Cup in general:
“The Cameroonian national team, Les Lions Indomitables, is one of the most successful national soccer teams in the world. We have participated and won in elite world competitions, such as the African Cup of Nations, the Olympics, and the World Cup. This will be our seventh World Cup appearance. I expect us to reach the quarterfinals or the semi-finals.
“Other than Cameroon, I support my place of birth, France. I think Brazil and Germany should be favored.
“Considering how Belgium has improved, I think Belgium definitely has a chance, so I wish my Belgian brother Max a lot of luck. Personally, I don’t think the USA is a soccer nation, so I don’t really expect much from them. But I also wish my American brother Jackson luck because his team will need it!”
Max Ramaekers is Belgian, and will return to Belgium next year to study Communications at the university in Brussels. He and his family lived for nine years in Rwanda and have now been in Cameroon for four years. He is excited by the prospects for his Belgian team:
“I believe the current Belgian team to be the best one we have ever had. We have lots of talent, crazy potential, 10 players in the Premier League (in England) and others on the top teams of Spain and Italy.
“We came out of the World Cup qualifiers first in our group, with 26 points out of 30 (eight wins and two draws). I’m not saying we will win it all, but I am saying that with luck and immense effort — if we are spared from injuries, we could.
“I think Germany is the main candidate for the world title. The USA’s soccer team hasn’t risen to be as globally influential as the country’s politics. We played them in a ‘friendly’ game a few months back and won 4-2. I don’t see them as a big threat to anyone.
“Cameroon on the other hand has more of a soccer history. However, I don’t think their team is truly ready for the task.
“The best thing about soccer to me is that it brings people together; it’s really a great way to make friends and socialize.”
Jackson Barratt Heitmann is the oldest of four children of Dr. Nikki Barratt and Jeff Heitmann, teachers at ASOY. He was born in the U.S. and has lived with his family in Bahrain, Zambia, Madagascar, and Cameroon. He is in the process of applying to colleges in the States (including Middlebury College).
“The World Cup in Brazil will bring a revitalized U.S. team with high hopes. The U.S. is coming off a 1st place finish in qualifying and a historic 11-game winning streak. New boss Jurgen Klinsman has improved the defense and finishing in the attacking third.
“If in form, the U.S. has the quality to make a run at the quarterfinals — only accomplished once before. Other than the U.S., I think that Brazil could really prove to be a force to be reckoned with. Their dominant win over Spain in the Confederations Cup and home field advantage could make them World Cup champions.
“There are three stand-out players who will make or break the U.S. team: Clint Dempsey, a clinical finisher with great vision; Landon Donovan, who, after being left off the team by Klinsman for over two years, has made a comeback this year; and 34-year-old goalkeeper Tim Howard, who has 90 appearances for the United States in international matches.
“As for the nations of Cameroon and Belgium, I am confident both can do well. Cameroon did not look like the Indomitable Lions during the qualifying stage, but on Sunday against Tunisia they looked formidable. I think that Cameroon could get to the Round of 16, but that is as far as they will go, in my opinion.
“Belgium on the other hand is enjoying a dynasty. They could definitely make it into the semifinals of the World Cup if they receive a favorable draw out of the group stage.”
There you have it — the experts’ view. Now, enjoy the run-up to the world’s greatest sporting event.
Allez, les Lions!