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AFCON: Cameroon look to brush aside Ethiopia

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Cameroon will face off with Ethiopia in their second 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) match on Thursday. Kick-off is at 6:00 pm CAT.

The Group A match is set to take place at the Stade Omnisport Paul Biya in Cameroon’s biggest city, Yaoundé.

The Indomitable Lions claimed a 2-1 win over Burkina Faso in their opening match in Group D which was played on Sunday.

Vincent Abubakar, who is the Cameroon captain, was the hero for the Indomitable Lions as he scored twice against Burkina Faso.

read also:Nigeria has an 80% chance of winning AFCON, says Forest Rangers striker

The Saudi Arabia-based centre forward will now be looking to inspire tournament hosts to a win over a wounded Ethiopia side.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia are coming off a 1-0 defeat to Cape Verde in their opening Group D match which was also played on Sunday.

Julio Tavares scored the only goal of the match for Cape Verde and Wali Ibex will once again be looking to their captain Getaneh Kebede.

Kebede is an experienced striker with an eye for goals and he will be keen to lead his troops to a shock win over Cameroon.

The last meeting between Cameroon and Ethiopia was on 13 January 2016.

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Bundesliga: Ambitious underdogs Freiburg eye UCL debut

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SC Freiburg are punching above their weight in the Bundesliga this season, with Christian Streich’s ambitious underdogs from the heart of the picturesque Black Forest eyeing a first appearance in the Champions League.

Freiburg have been perennial mid-table finishers in recent Bundesliga seasons, aside from their relegation in 2014-15 before coming straight back up.

Streich is the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current coach after more than a decade in the job.

Under his stewardship, Freiburg’s performances have fuelled dreams of a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League for the first time.

“If that should happen, I think the party would really kick off in the city,” club captain Christian Guenter told AFP.

“It’s never happened before in the club’s history, but there is still a really long way to go.”

It’s 08:45am local time on a bleak morning, yet Guenter, 28, is fresh-faced and ready for training, clearly enjoying his football.

His performances at left-back earned him a Germany recall last November, seven years after his international debut.

RETAINING TALENT

Freiburg usually struggle to keep their best players, most recently when Germany defender Robin Koch left in 2020 to join Leeds United.

“Almost 10 years ago, we qualified for the Europa League and five important players left that summer,” sporting director Klemens Hartenbach told AFP.

“It’s always a bit related to sporting success — the exodus after the good work.”

However, Freiburg managed to keep their squad intact going into this season and have racked up league points.

“We simply know that we have great potential in the team,” added Guenter.

“There is always a lot of energy in training, everyone is very ambitious and wants to win.

“That’s what really distinguishes us this season: we never give up, no matter what the score is.”

Freiburg have no big-name stars, yet shocked Borussia Dortmund in their first home match on the way to remaining unbeaten in their opening 10 league games to set a club record.

Freiburg became the last Bundesliga side to lose their unbeaten status only after a narrow defeat at mighty Bayern Munich in November.

A win over Bayer Leverkusen before Christmas meant Freiburg finished the first half of the season third in the table — another club best.

Despite a 5-1 thumping a fortnight ago at Dortmund, when Erling Haaland ran riot, Freiburg bounced back with a win over Stuttgart to currently sit fifth, just a point outside the Champions League places.

Striker Nils Petersen, who spent two seasons at Bayern until 2013, loves the atmosphere in the Freiburg dressing room.

EVERY WIN IS SPECIAL

“Every win is something special for us, where as at Bayern you are expected to win,” Petersen told AFP.

“We’re enjoying it right now, we like to ride the wave of success, but the fear is always that it can go in the other direction again.”

At 33, Petersen is in the twilight of his career and out of contract in June, but hopes to be offered an extension.

“The club has already said they can imagine extending with me,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to watch the team be successful next season at home on the television.”

He has strengthened his case by proving his value as a substitute.

He holds the record for the most Bundesliga goals as a sub and his late winner at Hertha Berlin last October was his 30th after coming off the bench.

Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

“If it gets you in the history books at some point, I’m not going to say no and I quite enjoy making an impact,” he added.

The club is also branching out off the pitch, moving from their iconic Schwarzwald Stadion to the state-of-the-art Europa Park Stadium, which holds around 35 000 people.

February’s fixtures against Cologne, Mainz, Augsburg and Hertha Berlin offer chances to again climb the table and boost their Champions League ambitions.

“Maybe we are a very small dot on Europe’s football map now,” added Hartenbach. “And that could lead to us maybe becoming something bigger.”

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US, Canada win to lead CONCACAF World Cup race

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Canada and the United States stayed on course for World Cup qualification with crucial wins on Thursday as Mexico reignited their campaign with victory over Jamaica.

Canada, looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, scored a disciplined 2-0 away victory over Honduras in San Pedro Sula to stay on top of the Concacaf standings with 19 points from nine games.

A Denil Maldonado own goal after 10 minutes followed by a sublime lobbed finish by Jonathan David in the 73rd minute secured all three points for Canada, who host the USA in Hamilton, Ontario on Sunday.

The USA — desperate to qualify for this year’s finals in Qatar after their shock failure to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia — boosted their chances of qualification with a 1-0 win over El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio.

England-born defender Antonee Robinson scored the game’s only goal to leave the USA one point behind Canada in the eight-team final round of qualifiers for Central America, North America and the Caribbean

Fulham fullback Robinson rifled home a low finish on 52 minutes at a frigid Lower Field in Columbus, Ohio to secure the three points.

But it was a largely unconvincing victory for US coach Gregg Berhalter’s side, who laboured to break down a dogged El Salvador team who remain near the foot of the eight-team qualification table.

MEXICO BOUNCE BACK

In other games on Thursday, Mexico snapped their two-game losing streak with a battling 2-1 win over Jamaica in Kingston.

Mexico are one point behind the US with 17 points from nine games.

Costa Rica edged Panama 1-0 on a goal from Bryan Ruiz, the defeat leaving Panama three points behind Mexico in the standings and Costa Rica a further two points back.

The top three teams qualify automatically for the finals in Qatar, with the fourth-place team advancing to a playoff.

The US-El Salvador game in Columbus had kicked off in freezing temperatures of around -1 degrees Celsius but the hosts failed to make the most of the advantage from the cold conditions.

The US controlled possession in the first half but failed to make their dominance of possession and territory count.

FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira squandered the best two chances that fell to the home side, who failed to get a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

Ferreira missed a promising early opportunity after 16 minutes when he blazed a shot over the bar from eight yards out after being worked into space.

The 21-year-old should have fired the US ahead three minutes later. Barcelona’s Sergino Dest surged down the right flank and whipped in a cross which was flicked on by Timothy Weah.

The ball fell invitingly to Ferreira on the edge of the six-yard area, but instead of tucking it away with his left foot, the youngster attempted to finish awkwardly with the outside of his right boot and his effort flew over.

Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

The US upped the tempo at the start of the second half and the El Salvador resistance finally cracked.

Weah’s shot was blocked and Ferreira headed across goal to Robinson, who drilled in the rebound for 1-0.

In Kingston, meanwhile, Mexico avoided a third straight defeat with their win over the Reggae Boyz.

Jamaica were rocked by a red card for Damion Lowe but took a shock lead through Daniel Johnson in the 50th minute.

But just when it looked as if Mexico were sliding to a third straight loss, Henry Martin’s header made it 1-1 on 82 minutes, and then moments later Alexis Vega swept in the winner after punishing slack marking at the back post.

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Favourite son Eto’o is pride of Cup of Nations host city Douala

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Samuel Eto’o left for Europe to become one of the greatest African footballers of all time but it was in the city of Douala that he first made his name and where residents continue to idolise the former Barcelona superstar.

 

Cameroon’s economic capital is a loud and chaotic port city, hot and humid.

It is here that the country’s Indomitable Lions will face Gambia in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals on Saturday as Cameroon come to Douala for the first time in the tournament having played their previous matches in Yaounde.

Eto’o, who also starred for Inter Milan and wore the number nine for his country, moved to Douala with his family from the capital as a young boy.

He was raised in an unremarkable house on a dusty street in New Bell, an impoverished district where the locals are only too happy to talk about the man who put their neighbourhood on the map.

“He grew up here but he was blessed by God,” says Valentine, a 49-year-old caterer sheltering from the scorching mid-afternoon sun just across the street from the Eto’o family house.

“Eto’o has helped a lot of people in this neighbourhood. Recently he came back here and laid on food for everyone in New Bell.”

IMMORTALISED

Just along the street is a bar where the exterior walls are decorated with pictures of the four-time African Footballer of the Year.

Nearby the moto-taxis that can make navigating the streets a hazardous task pass in front of a statue of Eto’o in the green, yellow and red of Cameroon, with whom he won the AFCON in 2000 and 2002.

Eto’o was just 20 when he led the Indomitable Lions to that second continental title and it would be another two years before he signed for Barcelona and teamed up with players including Ronaldinho and a very young Lionel Messi.

In Douala it was clear Eto’o was a special talent from a very young age.

“He was little, lively and loved football,” recalls Jean Rene Noubissi, who took Eto’o under his wing as he was starting out at local side UCB.

“He calls me his first president. I helped oversee his development.

“When he played for UCB he scored goals in every game and I would give him a little bonus as a reward.

“Even then you could see the discipline he had. He believed in his potential and knew where he wanted to go.”

The walls of Noubissi’s cramped office in the Akwa business district are covered in pictures of him with Eto’o, including one with Barcelona president Joan Laporta.

ROLE MODEL

Eto’o was on the books at Real Madrid and starred for Mallorca before joining Barcelona, but before all of that he went to France to try his luck only to return home with his tail between his legs.

“When he came back he had no club but he was still very famous, everybody knew about him in Douala. When he was just 14 he was the one feeding the whole family,” says Hiondi Nkam, author of a new book about Eto’o called “Les Anges et Les Demons” (Angels and Demons).

He was not yet 16 when he made his international debut and barely 17 when he went to the 1998 World Cup after newly-appointed coach Claude Le Roy decided he could not ignore such a precocious talent.

“I wanted to give a chance to all the locally-based players to see if there were any gems among them, and I saw this young player who seemed so comfortable tactically and so intelligent,” Le Roy told AFP.

“He was just a kid but he wasn’t afraid of all the big names in the team.”

Having retired from playing in 2019 aged 38, Eto’o has quickly transitioned into a leadership role off the field and in December, he was elected president of Cameroon’s Football Federation.

“People believe that he is not there for money or fame, but he is there to help,” says Nkam, who sums up what Eto’o means to New Bell.

“He is a role model. He was selfish on the field of play but very, very human off it. Some people would say that after God comes Samuel Eto’o.”

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