Cameroon take on Zambia with a place at Tokyo 2020 at stake
- Ajara Nchout is the Indomitable Lionesses’ star striker
- “I’ve always dreamed of getting where I am today”
“The girls are on a real high at the moment,” Cameroon striker Ajara Nchout told FIFA.com. “We’ve worked hard to get here and we’re on the brink of qualifying.”
The Indomitable Lionesses are indeed very close to realising their Olympic dream. On Thursday 5 March they will entertain Zambia in the first leg of their fifth-round tie in the African qualifying competition for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020. The return leg is on 10 March in Zambia and the prize for the winner is a ticket to Japan.
As for the loser, they will have one final opportunity to make it to Tokyo, courtesy of the intercontinental play-off against Copa America 2018 runners-up Chile.
Currently 49th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking to Zambia’s 106th, the Cameroonians will start the African decider as clear favourites, although Nchout is taking nothing for granted: “Zambia have come this far because they’re a good side, and we need to respect them. If our concentration is lacking, then they could surprise us.”
Cameroon have experience on their side, however, having made the round of 16 at the last two FIFA Women’s World Cup™ competitions. They have also appeared at the Olympics once before, though their debut at London 2012 ended early with three defeats and a group-phase elimination.
The forward was only 19 at the time. “It was my first time at a major event, one I’d only ever seen on TV,” she recalled. “My team-mates and I were dreaming of emulating the Indomitable Lions, who won gold at Sydney 2000. We were just kids, though. We’ve got a lot more experience under our belts now.”
That is definitely true of Nchout, who had a 2019 to remember. Not content with helping her club Valerenga finish runners-up in the Norwegian league and claim a place in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, she played a decisive role at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. It was her two goals in the 2-1 defeat of New Zealand that took Cameroon into the knockout phase, with the second of those two strikes, which came in stoppage time, also earning her a nomination for the 2019 FIFA Puskás Award.
The 27-year-old forward has been in equally fine form in the Olympic qualifiers, top-scoring for her side with three goals. Thanks to her exploits, she made the three-player shortlist for the African Women’s Footballer of the Year accolade at the last CAF Awards.
“I’ve always dreamed of getting where I am today,” she smiled. “I get a lot of pleasure out of being a professional footballer, especially when I think of my early days, when no one believed in me. What I’m experiencing at the moment is just incredible.
“I think you have to allow children to go and fulfil their dreams and believe in their future. Some people think girls shouldn’t play football. I’ve got a message for them and for parents in particular: you have to let children play the sports they want because you don’t know where it can lead. No one in my family understood what I wanted to do because none of them played football. They wondered why it was that a girl wanted to play football.”
Given the journey she has been on since then, Nchout has pretty much answered that question. Should she help Cameroon make the Olympics once more, it is a question that future generations will hear less of and may not even hear at all if Nchout and her team-mates return from Japan with a medal.