Chronicle of Cameroon’s AFCON 2023 debacle: A comedy of errors

Félix Houphouët Boigny Stadium, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire – In a dramatic turn of events, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have once again been tamed, not by a rival team but by their missteps and absurdities. As the dust settles on their AFCON 2023 campaign, we dissect the calamity that unfolded on the pitch and behind the scenes.

It has been difficult to derive a title for this chronicle. The choices were a handful: “Lions Roar Silently: Cameroon’s AFCON Exit Leaves Fans Bewildered,” “From Indomitable to Incompetent: How Cameroon Tripped Over Its Cleats,” OR even “Eto’o’s Shadow: The Curious Case of Cameroon’s AFCON Missteps.”.
Nevertheless, let us pinpoint Cameroon’s AFCON 2023 Debacle: A Comedy of Errors.

Error N°1: Nigeria Strikes Again: Déjà Vu or Déjà Boo?: It’s like watching a broken record spin. Just like in 2019, Nigeria’s super eagles once again emerged victorious over Cameroon in the dreaded Round of 16. The Nigerian players must wonder if they’ve accidentally stumbled into a time loop. Goalkeeper Ondoua Fabrice messed up on two occasions, leading to two goals from the opponent. The static and heavy defence line. Sterile dominance upfront with no shot on target in more than an hour of football. Let’s not miss the target here! The defeat isn’t solely the players’ fault; the coaching staff deserves a standing ovation for their bewildering tactics.

Error N°2: Coaches’ Lineup Roulette: A Game of Musical Chairs Meet the coaching trio: Rigobert Song, Sébastien Meunier, and Simo Augustine, better known as a kit manager on the pitch than a coach with a sense of tactics, not forgetting the rest of the technical staff, They’ve turned lineup selection into a chaotic dance—a frenetic waltz where players swap positions faster than a pickpocket in a crowded mokolo market. Against Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, and now Nigeria, it’s been a merry-go-round of confusion. (7 changes in the starting XI from the game against Guinea to that of Senegal, 3 other changes to face The Gambia, and 2 changes to face Nigeria). The playing formation equally became a call for concern, from a classical 4-3-3 in the first 2 games to a 3-4-3 in the last 2 games. The risk of aligning three defenders against Nigeria, which possesses one of the most valuable attacking trios on the continent, made things even worse. Perhaps they’re secretly moonlighting as DJs, spinning records instead of strategies.

Error N°3: Player Selection: The Great Omission Debacle* The AFCON squad resembled a Swiss cheese, full of holes. Key players were left out, like forgotten ingredients in a half-cooked eru soup. Kunde Malong, Chouppo Moting, Fai Collins, and Michael Ngadeu are the names surfacing on the lips of many pundits. Fans scratched their heads, wondering why certain stars were benched. Meanwhile, the ghost of Samuel Eto’o loomed large, orchestrating moves from the shadows. Is he the puppet master or just a meddling uncle at the family barbecue? We may never know. He was spotted on the sidelines of the pitch, in the dressing room, dancing with players after the miracle of Bouake against a small but ambitious Gambian side. His omnipresence is a double-edged sword.

Error N° 4: André Onana: The Goalkeeper Equation: Ah, André Onana—the enigma wrapped in a goalkeeper’s jersey. “God’s N°24,” as his partisans call him. His late arrival at the tournament raised eyebrows. Once in the lion’s den, the real drama unfolded when he clashed with Eto’o. An internal squabble found itself in the public sphere, with several media outlets and former internationals relaying the malaise. Rumour has it they argued over the past and present. In the end, Onana, who was seemingly backed by a host of journalists and fans, ended up on the bench. The result? A bitter brew and a fractured team spirit.

Error N°5: *Journalists’ Juggling Act: Onana’s Fan Club vs. Reality*; Some Cameroonian journalists found themselves in a tight spot. Some pledged unwavering support for Onana, even as he warmed the bench. They wrote impassioned articles, comparing him to God’s chosen one called to lead the indomitable lions to victory. Meanwhile, the rest of us wondered if they’d lost the brains to support an individual instead of a nation. Each time Onana warmed the bench, they secretly hoped Cameroon would lose the game so that their champion would be looked upon as the “indispensable” one. In an improvised meeting on the eve of the decisive game against Nigeria, Cameroon media men tried rallying the pieces together for ONE support for the team and corporation, but spoiler alert: It was too late!

Error N°5: *Nigeria’s Home Soil Curse: A Hex or Just Good Vibes?* Since that fateful 2000 finals loss on home turf, Nigeria has haunted Cameroon like a persistent mosquito. The Super Eagles hold an invincible record against Cameroon in the aftermath of the 2000 AFCON lost on home soil against Cameroon, with memories of controversial penalty shootouts that gave Cameroon its 3rd crown. Since then, Cameroon has fallen to Nigeria in three consecutive knockout AFCON games (2004, 2019, and 2024). Maybe they’ve been practicing voodoo chants or secretly swapping jerseys with luckier teams. Whatever the case, Cameroon needs an exorcist or a fowl’s foot—anything to break the curse.

*Back to the drawing boards: Finding the Soul of the Lions* The 2023 AFCON campaign has been a disaster. In four games, the Lions have conceded eight goals and scored five. The win against Gambia was a smokescreen, a bonsai tree hiding the forest of flaws. Now, as they lick their wounds, Cameroon must soul-search. It’s time to assemble a team with heart, grit, and a dash of common sense. Let’s hope they find it before the next AFCON—or risk becoming the laughingstock of the continent. Will Eto’o take on his responsibilities and admit his share of errors? Will coach Rigobert Song resign by himself or wait to be sacked by his friend? Will Cameroon finally understand that grassroots football development is the key to future success and not a hunt for binationals? The questions are mouthful. In the words of an anonymous fan, “Cameroon, you’ve got more holes than a Swiss cheese. Fix it, or we’ll start calling you the ‘Swiss Lions’!”

Lawrence Nkede
On duty for
Abidjan, Côte d’ivoire

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