Ignore the last Cameroonian kick of the Africa Cup of Nations; Clinton N’Jie’s nonchalant swing at one of the most hopeless penalties you will see on the international stage. The host nation’s semi-final exit threatens to dampen the mood, but their pride at hosting a first Afcon in half a century won’t be dimmed even as Egypt and Senegal advance to the final.
“We are witnessing one of the best Afcons ever organised,” Geremi, who won 118 caps for Cameroon, tells i. “There have been a lot of surprises, Comoros, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, teams that on paper are not so big but you saw in this tournament what they have done. It means football in Africa is developing.”
For sheer entertainment, the number of fairytales and the quality of theatre, this Afcon has been matched. It has not been without its problems; it will be remembered too, for tragedy, at least eight people being killed and dozens more injured in a crush outside Olembé stadium in the capital, Yaoundé.
There have been elements of farce, from the referee ending Tunisia’s group game with Mali before the 90 minutes was up, to Sadio Mane playing on for 16 minutes after a serious concussion during Senegal’s 2-0 win over Cape Verde.
A moment to trouble Jurgen Klopp, who made known his reservations about his two most potent forwards taking part in this competition in the first place.
Those reservations prompted anger on a continent (rightly) determined to showcase the best of African football, so it is fitting that Mane will be joined by Mohamed Salah in Sunday’s showpiece.
“They will be rivals, there’s a competition of who’s the best African player, and it will be an opportunity to show who is the king,” adds Geremi, who was speaking on behalf of Genting Casino.
“Senegal has a big advantage because they’ve never won an African cup, they have a strong team, Mane, [Kalidou] Koulibaly, but Egypt want to add a star to their shirt.
“The way Egypt play, against Cameroon they were strong defensively, not only Salah but the [whole] team. We [Cameroon] dominated the game but they were strong defensively. They have a good goalkeeper they wanted to bring us to penalty kicks. The final will be a tight match and the difference will come in the details.”
Before that, Cameroon can finish Afcon on one final high. Burkina Faso, their opponents in the third-place play-off, have their own admirable backstory, seeking to provide respite and inspiration for a nation coping with the aftermath of a military coup.
“I’m not disappointed about the performance of our players, just the penalty kicks,” Geremi reflects. “Penalty kicks are a gamble. You leave it in the hands of God and God decided it was not our day. We were very close, I’m happy with what my national team have done. I wish them to get third place and be focused so Cameroon will remember we had a very good tournament.”
Geremi was speaking to i in association with online casino Genting Casino – 18+ BeGambleAware