LIBREVILLE Rarely has a coach overseen as much change in as short a time as Hugo Broos but in less than a year in charge of Cameroon the Belgian has taken an inexperienced group to the African Nations Cup final.
Cameroon continued to overcome the odds and exceed expectations at the tournament in Gabon as they beat Ghana 2-0 in the semi-finals on Thursday to book a place in Sunday’s final against Egypt.
It has been a whirlwind 11 months for Broos, who played for Belgium at the 1986 World Cup and won league titles as coach of Club Bruges and Anderlecht.
“In the 29 years I’ve been a coach I’ve never worked with a group like this,” he enthused after the semi-final.
Largely unknown in Africa, Broos’s arrival in Cameroon was met with scepticism that largely continued until a few days ago.
But Broos single-mindedly set about reviving the Indomitable Lions, who despite qualifying for the last two World Cups, had lost much of their lustre.
Sacred cows were sacrificed as the Belgian cooked up his own recipe, discarding much of the team’s old guard and throwing untested youngsters into the mix.
Between his first and second games in charge – both against South Africa in qualifiers in March – he made five changes and the rate of experimentation continued at much the same pace through seven internationals before Cameroon arrived in Gabon.
“I had to, most of the players were over 30 and I needed to build a team for the future,” Broos said.
Among the heroes of their progress to the final are two players who won their first caps last year, defender Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui, scorer of two key goals in the tournament, and Danish-based striker Christian Bassogog.
Even in Gabon, Broos kept springing surprises as he benched former captain Nicolas Nkoulou, dropped leading striker Vincent Aboubakar and kept Clinton Njie, on loan from Tottenham Hotsour to Olympique Marseille, on the bench.
Cameroon has long been a team where key players like Samuel Eto’o, Roger Milla and Rigobert Song kept their places in the side even when they were long past their best.
“The coach came with his plan, he was looking for a spirit and we’ve created a group, a family,” said captain Benjamin Moukandjo as Cameroon began preparations for the final.
“He has given a lot of players a chance and we are now a solid squad.
“It’s a fantastic group of players both on and off the field and they deserve the final,” added Broos. “We’ve shown from the start that we are getting better but it’s still a dream that we’ve got to the final.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)