Cameroon had the worst possible run-up to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with several big-name players withdrawing from the squad to concentrate on club football. In their absence, the 23 players in Gabon quickly bonded as a unit, and on Sunday Cameroon won their fifth African title with a resilient 2-1 comeback victory against Egypt. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to defender Ambroise Oyongo, who played every minute for his side in Gabon, about the Indomitable Lions’ spirit and their ambitions for the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to be African champion?
Ambroise Oyongo: It is amazing because we went so far. We worked very hard and it was difficult. We played against all the big teams in Africa. We played against Senegal, Ghana and now we played against Egypt. I think we deserved it. It was very difficult, but now we are champions. I think it is because we have fighting spirit, so we have to be happy, because we deserve it.
*When did you think that the dream of winning a fifth title could become reality? *
After beating Senegal, we became more confident, because Senegal was the best team at this Africa Cup of Nations. So when we beat them, we were confident that we could win this competition.
*Will there be huge celebrations when you return? *
Of course. We are champions. It is not every year that you become African champions. Many players never achieve that, or some achieve it once in their life. Cameroon was not in the final for so long, we needed to win something. It has been 15 years, we have done nothing since then, so now the country is very happy and so we party.
We don't have big players, but we have the mentality. If you look at Germany, they also do not have the best players, but when you see them play, you feel that it is a group, that it is a team. And that is why they are so successful.
*When do you have to go back to Montreal Impact? *
I am lucky, I only have to go back on February 15, as we are in pre-season. I think I need time to rest. I will talk with my team as I need a couple of days off to recover.
*You have played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but how does this compare? *
It is not the same. This one is more difficult because you have good players, you have players who play in some of the best teams throughout the world. I played against some great players in this competition. I played against Mohamed Salah, I played against Christian Atsu and I played against Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. And then I played against Sadio Mane, it was difficult against him. But if you play at the U-20 World Cup, it is the younger players, so that is easier. It is much more difficult when you play against an Atsu or a Salah.
*And now, of course, you have qualified for the FIFA Confederations Cup later this year in Russia. What does that mean to you? *
That is huge. All the best teams from all around the world compete in the Confederations Cup. I think we will prepare well for that competition. We have a good team and if we prepare as we did for AFCON, we will be ready and we can do something there.
*What are the strengths that you had in Gabon and that you can draw on for the Confederations Cup? *
I think our main strength is the mentality of the team. We are a group, and if everyone accepts what the coach says, we can do anything. We need to be together and we need to be focused. We don't have big players in the team, but we have the mentality. If you look at Germany, they also do not have the best players, but when you see them play, you feel that it is a group, that it is a team. And that is why they are so successful.
*You will face some even bigger names in Russia at the Confederations Cup. Are you looking forward to that challenge? *
When you play football you have to be ready to play against all the best players, so we have to prepare for that and focus. For me it is good, I play in the MLS, but I play against some of the best players in the world. You know, it is not easy. We can play against Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo that will be difficult, but that is football. You have to accept that, you have to fight if you want to play against the best, so I will take up the challenge.