Fresh from becoming the youngest scorer in La Liga history, Malaga forward Fabrice Olinga became the youngest ever scorer for Cameroon at international level on Sunday as he scored against Cape Verde in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
Olinga, aged just 16 years and 155 days, turned home a Samuel Eto’o cross late on to make the score 2-1 to the hosts, but it was not enough to spare the Indomitable Lions a second failure to qualify for the tournament in two years.
While new manager Jean-Paul Akono had opted to turn to largely experienced heads for the encounter, including the likes of Pierre Womé, Pierre Webó and Eto’o himself, the failure to progress to the tournament may be offset in the long-run by the arrival of Olinga – one of the Central African country’s brightest prospects.
Indeed, while the national team is going through it’s leanest patch in some time, Cameroon can look to a potentially bright future with an array of talents emerging in the European game.
While the likes of Alex Song, Stéphane M’bia and Carlos Kameni have some years left ahead of them, Akono can look to them to form the core of a team that he can build the ‘New Cameroon’ around, assisted by the likes of impressive full-back Henri Bedimo, highly-rated Marseille man Nicolas N’koulou and Rennes defender Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik.
They are all undoubtedly fine players, but it is the Under-20 generation that offers great hope to the proud footballing nation. Besides Olinga, Spain is also host to another prodigious young striker in the form of Jean-Marie Dongou at FC Barcelona, a 17-year-old whose name has been mentioned in hushed tones at the Camp Nou for some time now and is tipped to make his Blaugrana debut later this year.
Also at the Camp Nou, the NextGen Series has highlighted the talents of several other Cameroonians. From robust centre-back Macky Bagnack to skilful winger Alain Ebwelle, and from rounded midfielder Lionel Enguene to athletic goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa – there are truly an array of Cameroonian talents emerging from the confines of the ‘new La Masia’.
Add in Monaco’s Edgar Salli and the several talented players emerging from the Aspire academy in Qatar and the long-term picture suddenly looks a lot brighter for the former Olympic champions. Cameroon’s failure must now be used as an opportunity to look forward, rather than back to past glories.