Nigeria and Cameroon in Austria for friendly double-header
Lolade Adewuyi Wiener Neustadt
June 5, 2021
The Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions are in Austria for two friendlies as they prepare for World Cup qualifiers and the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations. COVID-19 has thrown the African football calendar into turmoil.
African national teams were supposed to start the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers this month. But the games have been postponed until September due to the COVID-19 pandemic to enable countries to put facilities and finances in place.
Instead, Nigeria and Cameroon signed up to play two international friendly matches in Wiener Neustadt, 46 kilometers from the Austrian capital Vienna.
The two West African neighbors share an historic footballing rivalry with eight Africa Cup of Nations titles between them, but the first of the two fixtures on Friday night was also hit by player cancellations after seven Nigerian players dropped out due to injury.
Gernot Rohr: 'Very difficult'
Nigeria's German coach Gernot Rohr spoke to DW about how the pandemic had impacted his team's preparations and travel plans.
"All national teams have been affected by the pandemic because we could not travel as usual," he said. "And some of the players could not come sometimes, or they arrive at the last moment. I remember one game in Benin City, they only arrived on the day before the match, it was very difficult.
"We hope now that everything will become better, and we will have the fans in the stadium and the players can travel freely. And we can run our program," he said.
COVID-19 has caused turmoil in the African football calendar, with the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) scheduled for Cameroon this year, but now postponement until January 2022.
With the World Cup qualifiers for African teams now also delayed, there is going to be a rush to finish qualifying during the next FIFA international windows from September to March.
Cameroon assistant coach Francois Omam-Biyik, the man who famously scored the only goal in the Indomitable Lions' victory against Argentina at the 1990 World Cup, agreed with Rohr, saying:
"The pandemic affects us because we can't have all the players. Some countries are not allowing movements of players, or people should quarantine, so it's difficult. But we are trying to adapt," he said.
"Fortunately, Cameroon has a lot of good players who are in different leagues, so we've managed to assemble a competitive team."
Cameroon capitalize on Nigerian absentees
And it showed on Friday night as Cameroon ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a goal from Andre Anguissa of English side Fulham, relegated from the Premier League this season. Despite the Super Eagles' six attempts on target, they could not prevent defeat, with coach Rohr bemoaning a lack of depth in the squad.
It was Rohr's first loss to Cameroon in four matches and Nigeria's first defeat since losing the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final in Lagos, their third loss in the final to the Indomitable Lions.
"We missed seven key players due to injuries, so it was not our best team, but it was good to see other players. We are not happy to lose the game, but we saw some interesting new young players," Rohr said.
"We took the game seriously because we played against a tough opponent, a big game against a big rival. It was important for us to show our preparations, and I'm happy we won," he told DW.
While this was just a friendly game, there is an eye on next year's AFCON, which Cameroon are hosting for the first time since 1972, when they finished third.
Choupo-Moting: 'an honor to play Nations Cup at home' - but when?
"It is an honor to play the Nations Cup at home," said Choupo-Moting. "It is a special thing for the whole nation, and we want to go as far as possible. We have a good squad, and we're a big football nation. It will be something special to celebrate the title in our nation, but it is still far away, and we have to prepare for it."
While Cameroon have won all their five titles away from home, it is not lost on the team that their fiercest opponents would be planning to spoil the party next year in Yaounde.
"All the teams that will come to play in Cameroon are coming to win the title," added Omam-Biyik, who was part of the 1988 winning team in Morocco as a 21-year-old. "We won the five African Cups in different countries. We won them outside Cameroon. What is important is that everyone is going to want to win, so Cameroon must prepare to defend their turf."
As players wait to compete for the biggest prize in African football, the COVID-19 pandemic might still determine when or if they can even take part in the big showpiece event.
Nigeria and Cameroon drew 0-0 in the rematch on Tuesday.