x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fans yearn for good old days

Followers nostalgic for the years when their heroes played with heart instead of being frightened about getting an injury.

Football fans watch the match between Cameroon and Japan at the Sahar African Restaurant in Deira yesterday.
Football fans watch the match between Cameroon and Japan at the Sahar African Restaurant in Deira yesterday.

DUBAI // With Cameroon pitted against Japan, the Sahar African Restaurant in Deira was packed with football fans last night, while more tried to follow the match through its front window. At 6pm, as the 10th game of the World Cup kicked off at Bloem Stadium, at least a dozen fans watched from outside the Malian venue, popular with African expatriates. "I come here every day to watch the game through the window with my friends," said Humayun Kabir, from Bangladesh, who stood in a shirt and trousers in the evening humidity. "I have nowhere else to watch."

Claude Kouam, 34, a security officer from Cameroon, delayed leaving for work at one of Dubai's busiest restaurants, in order to watch the kick-off with his friends William Gamakoua, 29, and Leopold Tidnang, 37. All three men, who work in security, were hoping for a strong opening from their national side and at least one goal from team star Samuel Eto'o against their Japanese opponents, but for the first 20 minutes pace was slow and those gathered - football fans from Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria - were soon lamenting the lack of heart they said was being shown by some of the team's key players.

"I am very disappointed," Mr Kouam said, shaking his head. "I thought we would be better than this." The problem, Mr Tidnang mused, was that those footballers in the team who play in Europe have no real desire to put themselves in danger. "Samuel Eto'o is scared about his leg," he said 25 minutes into the game, as Eto'o and Keisuke Honda were shown in slow-motion hugging on the pitch. It was not the action fans gathered at this West African restaurant had been hoping to watch. "That's why he doesn't play with heart. Players who play outside, play for the money."

Across the table Taiwo Oluwd, a Nigerian businessman dealing in cargo who has been here for a year, watched on with a smile. He has not missed a game involving an African team and, while supporting Nigeria first and foremost, he is hoping that at least one of the African teams will make it through to the quarter-final stages. The room remained silent in the first half as neither team did much to impress. But in the 39th minute, a goal by Japan's Honda saw fans rise to their feet, arms outstretched as the room erupted into cries of "No!"

Soon afterwards a loud and animated discussion erupted between Mr Kouam, Mr Gamakoua and Mr Tidnang, in their native language of French, which Mr Kouam later explained was about their frustration at the absence of a flair player such as Patrick Mboma, Cameroon's former all-time top goal scorer who retired in May 2005. "Even in the final minutes we were sure that he would score," Mr Kouam said. "We trusted him. Now we don't have such a player. We have always had this in a Cameroon side until now. We have nothing."

At the start of the second half, the room lapsed in and out of silence as 25 despondent faces waited for action. Mr Tidnang and his compatriots became more vocal as wave after wave of Cameroonian players attacked the goal in the final 20 minutes, reaching a crescendo in the 85th minute when a shot at goal struck the crossbar. But the game ended with Cameroon failing to equalise and as the room quickly dispersed, Mr Gamakoua stared dejectedly forward at the screen.

"That was very bad," said Mr Tidnang. "We don't have a good coach. Where was Alexandre Song? Why didn't we play a good player? Also Geremi. They put him on in the second half, one of the best players in Cameroon. I don't understand why they didn't play him from the beginning. I am very angry." The next game for Cameroon is against Denmark, who lost 2-0 to the Netherlands yesterday. Mr Tidnang is not wildly optimistic about Cameroon's chances. "I'm not sure if we can win but it is football," he said with a smile. "I love my country and my national team."