World · July 4, 2022

AFCON: NBA superstar Joel Embiid talks about his love for Cameroon



CNN

At around 11 am on Saturday, January 29, in the Philadelphia area of ​​the United States, a 27-year-old man intends to set his seven-foot frame in a chair – or perhaps remain standing – and turn on the device of his choice, to spend 90 minutes consumed by the events taking place on a football field in his hometown of Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Warning: people nearby can hear applause – loud, loud applause. The fact that those sounds may have come from one of the best basketball players on the planet only adds to the intrigue.

When he’s not playing a Most Valuable Player caliber for the Philadelphia 76ers – and his definition of “bad night” was almost a triple double of 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a 105-87 loss to Los Angeles Lakers Thursday – Five-time NBA All-Star Joel Embiid cheers on his nation of Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which his homeland is hosting.

Saturday’s quarter-finals pit the Indomitable Lions against Gambia in a match that Embiid’s team is expected to win. The win would mean Cameroon are two games away from winning their sixth AFCON title, with the most recent coming in 2017, the center’s rookie year for the 76ers.

Embiid was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month just three days before Cameroon defeated Egypt 2-1 in the 2017 final; a match that, if all goes well, could be repeated on Sunday 6 February.

“The level of excitement has always been enormous,” Embiid tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies about her love for the Cameroon national team since childhood. “The crazy thing is that when Cameroon always played, every time they scored, everyone was screaming. The whole country could be heard screaming. ”

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While his remarkable journey brought Embiid to America at the age of 16 – first through high school and college in Florida and Kansas, and later selected 3rd overall in Philadelphia’s 2014 NBA Draft – he was born a few years after the run. fairytale of Cameroon at the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

The first African nation to advance to the quarter-finals, just seven minutes from reaching the last four, Cameroon ultimately succumbed to England in extra time. Along the way, the Indomitable Lions wowed the world, starting with the upset of the reigning champion of Argentina in the opening match.

“Obviously, Roger Milla put us on the map,” recalls Embiid of then 38-year-old forward Milla who scored four goals in Italy ’90, gaining further fame for his cheering for the brand’s goal by dancing under the corner flag. .

“Go back in history and watch the games, and learn through history before I was born, and of course the celebration was a huge part of that history… we have a lot of history that comes from Cameroon and whenever I get a chance to a little bit of being part of it, I always have fun “.

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Embiid followed all Cameroon matches at AFCON.

Embiid believes the class of 2022 can reign supreme at Africa’s flagship tournament. “We play at home, so whenever you have the support of your home fans, it usually increases your motivation a lot to move forward and win every single game,” she notes.

“Playing at home is a huge advantage for us and I think we have a chance to win it all … I’m excited to keep watching and continuing to support.”

Despite Cameroon’s success at AFCON, a football club’s fortunes pale in comparison to the death of a crush at the stadium last Monday at Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé. At least eight people were killed and 38 injured during the round of 16 match between Cameroon and Comoros.

A grim Embiid says, “I am a man of God, so I pray that those families find peace and also that their loved ones find peace and be at peace. It is tragic that it has happened and I am extremely sorry for it. ”Given the horrific events, what would it mean for Embiid and Cameroon if the team were to lift the trophy?

“As a country, we’ve been through a lot,” he reveals. “We didn’t have any competition [held] over there for a long time, so to finally be able to get it and be able to win, I think it’s going to be huge for us.

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In view of AFCON 2022, stars such as Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mané (Senegal) of Liverpool, Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) of Manchester City, Achraf Hakimi (Morocco) of Paris Saint-Germain ( Morocco) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal) temporarily leaving their club teams behind what a pill so bitter for their club teams and fans to swallow has overshadowed the prestige that comes with representing their own country, not to mention the elevation of the tournament to levels reached in other continents.

Embiid closely follows European football, so do you agree that AFCON is failing to get the credit it deserves on the world stage?

“It’s messed up,” Embiid quickly concludes. “When we always talk about Africa, it seems to me that there is always a kind of double standard. I have never heard any complaints when it comes to the European Cup or any other cup.

“[AFCON]’is a little different because obviously it’s happening throughout the season over there, and some of the best players, when you talk about someone like Mo Salah or Sadio [Mané] they should play for their clubs. But I also appreciate that they just want to go back and represent their country, which is good.

“I think we’re still earning respect… when you look at how successful Africa is in general, we have a lot of talent. Not only in football, but also in basketball or other sports. In time, we will overcome it, but it is getting there slowly. ”

As for the big man himself, when asked what it would mean more to him – Cameroon triumphs at AFCON or Embiid’s winning MVP – he smiles. “It’s hard! I want both – both would be great!

“It would have been a better question if you had asked me between winning Cameroon or winning a championship!” Asked which one he would prefer, Embiid said, “Both of them would be great, as I said, I’m a competitor – I want to win.”

Embiid will tune in to watch Cameroon's quarter-finals v Gambia.

After detailing the hard work Cameroon has done to its former opponents, the Comoros, as the continental minnows have played most of the game with 10 men and the whole game with one player from field to goal, Embiid sends a message to the team of his heart in view of the challenges that await.

“Go out there and keep doing what they’ve done. In the end, they are doing great. They have our full support to keep doing this and I really hope they are able to keep that cup in our territory so I will continue to support them. As I said, I’ll watch the rest of the games. ”

Will we see another iconic celebration like Embiid’s Twitter video of Max Verstappen’s first Formula 1 title if the Indomitable Lions manage to win their sixth AFCON crown? “I hope the excitement of when we get to the final is the same [as the F1 finale]. We could get one! ”