Cameroon progress but sombre day shows Olembé tragedy’s cuts run deep


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Outside, Cameroon’s supporters were left under no illusions about what was expected of them. Inside, those who fulfilled the conditions for smooth passage could raise the roof. This Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final, won with two goals from Karl Toko Ekambi, was always going to be loaded with added meaning but the host nation progressed on two fronts.There was no repeat of Monday’s tragedy at the Stade Olembé in Yaoundé which has scarred this tournament irreversibly and nor was there any real sense one might occur; there was also a distinct impression Cameroon are equipped to go all the way, brushing aside a spirited representation from the Gambia who have formed some of the past fortnight’s fonder memories and would be welcomed to this level again.“Condolences to families of the departed spectators,” read a message on the big screens at either end during a well-observed, if brief, period of silence before kick-off. The balance required of the competition’s organisers was one that honoured the eight who died in the crush at Olembé and acknowledged the systemic failings that brought it about, while keeping the show on the road.Douala, the country’s throbbing economic capital, was alive for the first Cameroon game it has hosted at an Afcon. Soon after 8am vuvuzelas echoed in the area around Marché Ndogpassi, a sprawling complex four miles away from the ground; many among the city’s dense network of streets became almost impassable but the appetite to maintain order around the venue was unmistakable.Along the road that skirts Japoma Stadium’s western side, soldiers bearing rifles stood on roofs or stared down from balconies. They were members of the Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR), a feared combat unit that reports directly to the president, Paul Biya, and has been the subject of torture allegations in the past. As fans queued to pass through the turnstiles, which were allowed to open five hours before kick-off to ease pressure on access points, they were man-marked by red-capped gendarmes. The heavy-handedness of the spectacle was deliberate and the visual message clear: nobody would be allowed to take chances in gaining entry.Armed soldiers stand guard at the Japoma Stadium before the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final between the Gambia and Cameroon. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty ImagesIt was a problematic point, explicitly reinforcing the blame that has largely been passed on to supporters for Monday’s disaster. The Cameroon sports minister, Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, had felt no shame in finger pointing during the buildup. The beefed-up security presence was required, he said, “to stop the uncivil behaviour of Cameroonians who want to force themselves into the stadium when they do not have entry tickets and negative Covid-19 test results.” A ban on under-11s inside the arena was among the measures he announced. A statement attributed to the team captain, Vincent Aboubakar, had called for “a high sense of discipline and more responsibility”.Quick GuideBurkina Faso reach semi-finalsShowBurkina Faso joined Cameroon in the last four of the Africa Cup of nations by surprising Tunisia 1-0. Teenager Dango Ouattara scored Burkina Faso’s goal in first-half injury time, holding off two defenders after making a run down the right wing and firing his shot past goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said. The 19-year-old forward, who signed his first professional contract last year, was sent off in the 82nd minute for an elbow on Ali Maaloul, leaving his team to cling on to the lead he gave them for the final few minutes.The Burkina Faso squad has had to try and focus on football this week amid the distracting news of a coup back home. The players erupted in joyous celebrations at the final whistle in Garoua. They swept up coach Kamou Malo, hugged him and danced and chanted while he was trying to give a post-match TV interview. Burkina Faso will next face either Senegal or Equatorial Guinea. They play in the other quarter-final on Sunday. Senegal said Liverpool forward Sadio Mané will be available for that game after recovering from a blow to the head during the victory over Cape Verde in the last 16 that resulted in him being taken to the hospital for tests.Thank you for your feedback.The hope is that when the Confederation of African Football belatedly produces its report into what occurred in Yaoundé it views the chain of events that cost lives with a greater degree of nuance. Some fans in the more laid-back capital had been at pains to suggest Douala, with its bustle and chaos, carried a high risk of similar problems. In the event there were no significant problems reported: the figure of 36,259 in attendance, just under 80% of capacity as per Covid-19 guidelines, looked accurate to the naked eye and an unwanted test was safely passed.It meant that as António Conceição’s team turned the screw, those who had waited so long could crank up the volume. Strip away the more troubling elements of context and this was everything a Cup of Nations quarter-final should be: a home country backed with ear-splitting levels of goodwill; a dogged, competitive minnow in the Gambia whose luck eventually ran out; a high-tempo performance settled by well-taken goals that mean Cameroon, who will play Egypt or Morocco in the semi-finals, are two games from a historic title on home soil.The precise turf upon which they would triumph remains open to question. Olembé is slated to host their semi-final and the final but its fate rests on Caf’s review; Japoma Stadium is an impressive facility but the condition of its pitch has already cost it a last-four tie and one of Sunday’s quarter-finals. It is a shambolic state of affairs going into the final week of a major tournament, but Cameroon’s players have raised hopes they can leave a positive legacy.They had been mocked beyond their borders for labouring past Comoros, who lacked a specialist keeper, before matters of life and death took hold. For 20 minutes they struggled for rhythm against the Gambia, a likeable group who made no bones about their intention to frustrate. When Aboubakar’s 36th minute header was beaten away by Baboucarr Gaye, who plays in Germany’s fourth tier, the sense was they had met an unlikely goalkeeping nemesis once again. But Cameroon had torn their opponents apart down the flanks and brought the house down with smart finishes by Toko Ekambi, served from either wing in the 12 minutes after half-time.The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.Douala’s football fans could dance into the night, horns honking. An hour after full-time a section of the security personnel were debriefed in one of the stands, departing with a round of their own applause. Their work was done, but a rigorous analysis of the trauma that apparently necessitated it must follow.


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