Cameroon have reached the AFCON final despite turmoil on and off the field. Former national team goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell has told DW that Cameroon’s rich pedigree between the posts stands them in good stead.
Since Cameroon defied the odds by beating Ghana to make the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final, their 21-year-old goalkeeper, Fabrice Ondoa, has been lauded as one of the revelations of the tournament.
He is only playing in Gabon because more established keepers Guy-Roland Ndy Assembe and Andre Onana rejected call-ups along with a number of other Cameroon players including Schalke’s Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting.
But Ondoa, who is a plays with the reserves at Spanish side Sevilla, stepped up to make a crucial save to help Cameroon get out of the group stage and then stopped Sadio Mane's penalty in the shootout win against Senegal in the quarterfinals.He also had a starring role on Thursday as the Indomitable Lions defeated fancied Ghana 2-0.
Joseph-Antoine Bell won the Cup of Nations as Cameroon keeper in 1984 and 1988 and also appeared at the 1994 World Cup, having been a backup to fellow African goalkeeping icon Thomas N'Kono when Cameroon reached the 1990 World Cup last eight.
He told DW that Ondoa had helped restore Cameroonians' faith in football after the scandal involving absent stars and a familiar row between the team and the federation over tournament bonuses.
"I hope Ondoa can be better than me," a smiling Bell said in an interview in the Gabonese capital Libreville.
"You can't have good results without a good goalkeeper. Cameroon can now start thinking about having good results and leaving behind this very bad period. But for that it doesn't just take a good goalkeeper, you need to have administrators to manage the team and the football association itself."
'Many children love to be a goalkeeper'
Asked why Cameroon continually produces such good goalkeepers, with Malaga keeper Carlos Kameni adding to the list, former Marseille shot stopper Bell said the answer was simple.
"Given Cameroon had the best goalkeepers in Africa, it is natural that more youngsters develop the desire to play in goal," said the 62-year-old Bell.
"Normally youngsters don't want to play in goal but in Cameroon you have many, many children who love to be goalkeepers and don't have a fathers telling them not to play there. Fathers like their children to be goalkeepers and encourage them to be goalkeepers."
Despite Ondoa’s heroics and Cameroon overachieving - given their problems in the buildup - Bell has been disappointed by the quality of play at the Cup of Nations - with the exception of the vibrant Burkina Faso side who unluckily lost to Egypt on penalties in Wednesday’s first semifinal.
"If you have Cameroon in Sunday’s final but they are not happy with the way they are playing, and if you have Egypt there but they are not happy with how they are playing, it means there is something wrong with the whole tournament," he said.