By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have got off to the best possible start at the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, after seeing off the Stallions of Burkina Faso in the opening game this Sunday at the 60,000 seaters Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.
A magnificent victory for Cameroon saw Aboubakar Vincent scoring the two goals for the Indomitable Lions in a 2-1 victory. This result was a sweet one for the football-mad country of Cameroon as it was the first time that the country is hosting the tournament in fifty (50) years – the last time being in 1972 when present generations were not even born.
That huddle of hosting the AFCON would have been broken back in 2019 but that had to be stripped from the country after delays to the infrastructure and issues with COVID. The AFCON 2019 was given to Egypt while Cameroon was awarded the 2021 edition. But, that again had to be pushed to January 2022 due to an issue related to COVID-19.
The Indomitable Lions, however, did not start all-guns-blazing as Burkina Faso sat back in the opening minutes and had to rely on their counter-offensive which rattled Cameroon for a few minutes. Cameroon had the majority of the ball possessions (61%) as opposed to Burkina Faso (39%) but the side could not make goal-scoring chances from the intense pressure.
And lack of coordination and an error from goalkeeper Andre Onana saw Burkina Faso taking the lead at the 24mins through Gustavo Fabrice Sangare. This was the first goal from Sangare for his national team in two appearances. It was also a bitter one from Andre Onana who conceded his first goal after returning to the national side after his long ban from football. In the two previous encounters against Malawi and Ivory Coast (FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers), Onana kept two clean sheets.
Al Nassr striker Vincent Aaboubakar had another idea in the encounter as he succeeded in founding the back of the net on two occasions, and in the process bettered his record he had back at the 2917 Africa Cup of Nations. The Indomitable Lions striker found the back of the net at the 40th minute after VAR had to be called to award a penalty. Aboubakar stepped up and scored his first of the tournament and for his country.
29-year-old Aboubakar was not finished from there as he scored his second few minutes to the end of the first half, again through the penalty spot. His first spot-kick was slotted at the right side of goalkeeper Koffi and for his second goal went to the left side of the goalkeeper.
The former Coton Sport of Garoua striker would, however, be prohibited from getting his hat-trick after he was judged to have been offside in the process of him scoring. VAR again had to be called and after a long wait, the goal was disallowed. But sides kept mounting pressure on the other; for Burkina Faso to equalize while Cameroon was looking at extending its goal tally, but the game will end two goals to one after full time.
VAR shows how things are done rightly
The Confederation of African Football, CAF, before the tournament commenced had indicated that the Video Assistant referee will be used from the group stages of the competition, a move away from the last tournament that had the VAR only from the knockout phases at the 2019 AFCON.
There were two major instances that VAR had to intervene in the opening match; one for awarded a penalty to Cameroon and the other for denying a goal for Cameroon. Cameroonians may have had a lukewarm attitude towards the use of VAR in the tournament particularly looking at the issues that have followed the use of the instrument. But, in the two instances, the intervention of VAR shows why it had to be brought for the group stages at this AFCON.
With the VAR getting off to the right footing, CAF and the other officials will be hoping that there is no bad call being made from VAR which will send a strong message to the European Associations and even FIFA on how the VAR should be used. This will be a major outcome to African football and African referees who are not frequently selected by FIFA for World Cup matches.
The victory for Cameroon in Group A means the side pick up all three points as they head into the second encounter. Cameroon will face Ethiopia for their second encounter on Thursday, January 13 while Burkina Faso faces Cape Verde. All hopes if still not lost for the Stallions while Cameroon moves a step closer to the knockout stage.