Players from the 24-participating nations will be looking to stretch to ultimate peaks when the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon 2021 kicks off in a few hours.
While ripe and proven stars long to make the most out of features in various stadia, greenhorns would aim at launching their own journeys, in style.
Sierra Leone striker Kei Ansu Kamara and Cape Verde’s Marco Soares (both 37 years) wouldn’t take exceptions to imprinting their marks on Cameroonian soils. A striker and defensive midfielder for IFK Helsinki and F.C. Arouca respectively, they will be the oldest players to compete at the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. But take nothing away from them as their stories inspire the competition.
It is not by chance that Marco Soares, who has spent most of his career in Portugal and Cyprus, leads what has turned Blue Shark’s legendary generation. He will be making his second appearance in AFCON finals since Cape Verde maiden appearance in 2013 in South Africa; when he helped his country reach the quarterfinals. He bounces back after failing to make the Blue Shark’s final squad that graced the 2015 edition hosted by Equatorial Guinea.
Soares totals 46 caps and three goals since debuting for Cape Verde in 2006. His impacts through top-notch qualifiers cannot be looked over, including 2008 and 2012 AFCON qualifiers, not forgetting 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
He will be commanding 35-year-old goalkeeper Josimar Dias ‘Vozinha’, Trabzonspor forward Jorge Djaniny Tavares (30), striker Ryan Mendes among others. The preceding crop participated both at the 2013 and 2015 finals.
Coached by former international Pedro Leito Brito alias ‘Bubista,’ Cape Verde look beyond their record quarterfinal finish. They are full of high fettle in a cherished wish to go past the group stage. But they also know the massive hurdles of Group A – having to battle with hosts and five-time winners Cameroon, 2013 runner-up Burkina Faso and 1962 champions Ethiopia.
In their first outing at the Olembe stadium – directly after the opener between Cameroon and Burkina Faso – they are pitted against the Walias of Ethiopia.
Kei Ansu Kamara
Sierra Leoneans are all buoyant returning to the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 1996 in South Africa. At the center of this pride lies great belief for the team that achieved this feat. Great belief even for heroes of the triumph like Finnish-based forward Kei Ansu Kamara.
Born and raised in Kenema, Sierra Leone’s third largest city, Kamara began his career playing for Kallon F.C. in 2001. He later migrated to the United States, growing his trade through college football. From there to Norwich, Middlesbrough and back to the MLS to build the one-too-many club fortune that now speaks for him.
Kamara made his debut in September 2010 during a 1-1 draw with Egypt in 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. He formed a regular partnership up front with ex captain and fellow Kenema native Mohamed Kallon.
Kallon retired in 2016, handing over attacking reigns to Kamara. Netting Sierra Leone’s only goal against Benin to qualify them for a first AFCON in 26 years, is thus proof that destiny is in right hands.
A striking force with towering stature from USA Major League Soccer, Kamara is one of only 10 players to have scored 100 goals in MLS history. And he achieved this landmark in 300 appearances, currently fifth on the championship’s all-time scoring chart.
With 37 caps and seven international goals, coach John Keister had high hopes on Kamara, who is set to enjoy support from captain Umaru Bangura and former England defender Steven Caulker.
It will however not be all rosy for them in Group E with the likes of defending champions Algeria, 2015 heroes Cote d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea.
Both aged 37, Kamara and Soares are following in the footsteps of Egyptian legend Essam El Hadary – oldest player to participate in AFCON finals, 44 in Gabon 2017 – advancing the beauty and uniqueness of African football.