Monday, May 23, 2016

Cameroon Vs South Africa. Inaugural game at the Limbe Omnisports Stadium

When I was on holiday in Limbe in March, I was riding through Half Mile one day, when I saw a banner about the Indomitable Lions football qualifier against South Africa on March 26nd for CAN 2017 in Gabon. It was going to be played at the brand new, just completed Limbe Omnisports Stadium, the very first time an international game was going to be played in Anglophone Cameroon. I said to myself “I’ll definitely go there and watch my first international game!” (Even though the Lions have fallen deep under the football radar in recent years). I resumed work on March 22nd but was lucky to find out that, I was off on Saturday, March 26th so I travelled to Limbe on March 25thand bought my match ticket for a little more than the price, from someone who had purchased tickets and stocked, since all the tickets had already been sold out.

By midday the following day, I had been on my way to the stadium in Ngeme to secure a good seat. I’d never seen that road as crowded as it was that day. Security obliged us to park all vehicles at a given distance from the stadium. We trekked the entire length from the junction to the stadium baked by the afternoon sun. As we climbed the gentle slope which is still being paved, the brand new stadium which seemed so far off became more and more prominent. It was quite a sight to behold. Beyond the stadium lay a vast expanse of green forest land with estates of palm trees in proximity to it.

But what was even more impressive was the view directly behind us. The gentle slope stretched down and cut across the main paved road that zipped across the lovely resort city of Limbe to our right and tumbled spectacularly into the sea. Newly constructed storey buildings with red and blue roof tops were being built all over the populated coastline, beautified by a surfeit of trees and grass, that provided a stark contrast with the murky blue ocean, embellished with flora shrouded super tiny islands poking heads out of the sea like icebergs made of rock, with a couple of boats and canoes sailing past them. Add that to the refreshing sea breeze blowing on our sweating bodies to nature’s gift and that completes the “picture perfect” scenario. So we were blessed with a 3D view of absolute beauty; the spectacular stadium/greenery directly in front of us, the neat, beautiful resort city of Limbe to our right and the exquisite ocean views of blue waters, little islands, sailing boats and magnificent coastline.

Some Francophones who were also trekking to the stadium and who were visiting Limbe for the first time commented that, the scenery was so beautiful they would not return to Douala/Yaounde anymore. We caught side of a bare chested stocky man with a big belly, wearing baggy Cameroon flag coloured trousers and shoes with green red yellow painted all over his body.
“NGANDO! NGANDO!” we shouted.
“Non, Je ne suis pas Ngando. Je suis Zomo!” he corrected.
“Okay, Ngando the second,” someone shouted.
“You’re Ngando copy cat noh!” I said.

Anyway, our highly popular team mascot called Ngando wasn’t around but we could manage the copycat. We finally arrived the 20.000 seats stadium which was bustling with thousands of green, red and yellow people and hawkers engaged in booming petty business (everything was on sale in bright green-red-yellow colours including “Ca sort comme ca sort” T-shirts). The ambience was infectious. The music boomed. The Army ensured an orderly entrance into the stadium as we queued up on different soldier controlled lines to the different sitting compartments which were in accordance with the price of our match tickets. My 5000 frs match ticket fetched me a good seat around the middle of the pitch. And wow! What a beautiful stadium it is.

First and foremost, it’s brand new, so everything there is still sparkling. The different sitting compartments have got green, red and yellow seats to reflect the colours of the Cameroon flag. A giant screen rests near the section with yellow seats where the names of the players and scores are displayed.

An athletics track surrounds the green pitch for track and field events. And the field itself is as smooth as silk, green carpet grass which is watered by underground pipes that surface from below to do the job and disappear again when they’re done.

There is no stadium roof overhead, oops! So the afternoon sun boiled us like food, with its oppressive heat that triggered a lot of sweating. I started praying that, the heavens shouldn’t break loose, if not we would have been well drenched in the rain. Fortunately, that never happened. But why is there no roof? Wunna chop the money?
Team mascot Zomo worked up the crowd with his “pot belly” and journalists like Albert Njie Mbonde took over with the match commentaries. The Bafana Bafana made their way to the pitch for the warm up session. When the Indomitable Lions finally appeared on the field, for their own warm up session, we created a tumult, shouting the names of the few stars on the team, “Nkoulou! Mbia! Bedimo! Sally Edgar!” (Many other stars like Clinton Njie, Eric Choupo Mouting and Aboubakar Vincent had all missed the game for various reasons, ranging from injury to non selection).

I heard someone above my head in the crowd shout my name as if I was also one of the stars, “Nkiacha!” “Uh?” And when I looked up, I saw my buddy/former colleague Maliva Stephen together with his sister-in-law Ajua Carine cheering the lions. We all screamed, “Oh hoooo, so you’re also here? Wooooooh”. Both teams returned to the dressing rooms to change into their jerseys and returned in complete match gear for the national anthem of both teams to be sung and subsequently the 3:30 PM kickoff.
The first couple of minutes were entertaining but tense for us because our defense was a little porous. That proved fatal as SA scored very early in the game. But after a lot of hard work, the Lions mounted a lot of pressure on Bafana Bafana which resulted in Nicolas Nkolou equalizing from close range, to put the game at 1-1. SA tactically dominated the game for most of the first half and Cameroon only managed to resist their offensive play with Nicolas Nkoulou marshaling his shaky defense well as usual. The referee blew his whistle and halted the game for halftime, during which Kmer RnB star boy, Magasco entertained the crowd with a performance of his hit song, “Wule bang bang”.

When the game resumed, it was an even sided affair for a few minutes, until a Bafana Bafana player who held the ball spotted our goalkeeper, Guy Roland Ndi Assembe yards off his goal post. He then experimented a distant shot and impressively delivered a precise, well computed almost forty metre kick, from midfield, which beat our very careless, retreating goalkeeper and glided straight into his net in what was described as the best goal of the weekend CAN qualifiers. It will probably also go down as the best goal in that stadium for many years to come. But it was a very stupid goal to concede on the part of Ndi Assembe, whom no one knew what he was looking for, so far off his line. The way SA celebrated the goal, (by all running to the technical bench and applauding one of the men there) seems the suggestion of the distant shot had come from observation during half time that, Assembe kept strolling off his goal post even during the first half.

The goal angered the crowd so much they hurled insults at him and asked to know why young Fabrice Ondoa who had performed so well at the 2015 CAN wasn’t in the goalpost instead. As if that wasn't enough, Assembe still kept on strolling off his goal line, such that, with any impending SA attack, the whole crowd kept waving and shouting, “Go back, go back!” Bafana Bafana still played better than the lions in the second half and it made us all wonder how come they had lost all their games and drew just one (they had just one point in the qualifiers), for they were threatening to lead us in that game till the end. Our attackers created little or no chances. Jacques Zoa who wasn’t even scared to rock the legendary number nine jersey of Cameroon was a pure pedestrian. (Hmmm, oboy you know say na Milla and Eto’o their number that this man???)

At one point, the crowd missed Eto'o so much they even started yelling, “Eto’o, Eto’o, Eto'o!” yearning for his past goal scoring exploits even though he wasn’t even in the squad. A defeat would have been a disaster, as Cameroon has not been beaten at the Omnisports Stadium in Yaounde for 43 years (since 1973). Then just lose their first game in a brand new stadium in Limbe just like that! Fortunately, it wasn’t to be because in the dying minutes of the game, the lions mounted some pressure and Sebatien Cyani took possession of the ball and dispatched a lethal shot on target which swished the SA net and tied the game at 2-2. And that’s how the inaugural game ended in Limbe. Our unbroken record at home still continues, though with a stroke of luck in this one anyway.