Yaounde — After the sterling performance of Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon at the Women's AFCON in Yaounde late last year, fans joked that the girls could be preferred to represent Cameroon at the AFCON in Gabon.
This followed pent up disaffection with the male soccer team; the Indomitable Lions that they say have not roared since reaching the final of the African Cup of Nations in 2008.
But the performance of the Indomitable Lions at the 2017 AFCON in Gabon has virtually changed the mindsets of local fans.
"Lions had lost lions spirit since 2008. There was a lot disorder in the team and misunderstanding between players leading to poor performance. The new team spirit, youthfulness and performance of the team has won back our love for the team," said fan Andre Ama.
As Cameroon face Egypt in the final of the 2017 AFCON in Gabon this Sunday evening, fans back in the country are beaming with optimism that the rejuvenated Indomitable Lions will end a three-decade spell against the Pharaohs, and grab their fifth continental crown this time around.
Local fans who could not make it to neighbouring Gabon to cheer their darling team have been preparing to do so even as they will be watching the match on television screens.
Drinking spots and other entertainment joints in the nation's capital, Yaounde like elsewhere in the country have been face-lifted to the colours of the lions with ear-piercing victory songs welcoming visitors.
Most township taxis drivers have draped their caps in national colours, young people blowing vuvuzelas in every part of the city.
The fans say the team was widely seen as too young for the continental tourney despite the absence of several stars including Joel Matip, Choupo-Mouting and Ndi Assembe who refused to honour Hugo Broos's invitation to the competition.
"All those will watch the match in my bar will each have a bottle of beer if the lions win," an owner of a drinking spot near the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium told Nation Sports in Yaounde.
Hawkers of jerseys and other gadgets of the national soccer team admit business has been booming ever since the team advanced to the knockout stage of the competition.
"I have already bought my jersey (Bassogoc). He will score within the first half. I will wear it immediately after church service and join my friends. We will watch the match in a bar where we can freely make commentaries," fan Cyrille Owona.
The four times African champions last lifted the trophy in 2002 and have not reached this stage of the competition since 2008. The Pharoahs are after the eight title in their first appearance since 2010.
Football analysts in the country agree the performance of the girls at the 2016 Women's AFCON might have challenged and bolstered the boys.
"It's possible the 'freshman' team was challenged to have been 'abandoned' but their seniors and made bold to use their milk teeth and baby claws to defend themselves and catch prey," said Franklin Sone Bayen, football analyst and editor of This is Sport newspaper.
"Twice in Cameroon's football history when it lost an AFCON final, they were both at the hands of Egypt--1986 in Egypt and 2008 in Ghana. This time, Cameroon may just beat Egypt and break the jinx," Bayen suggested.
Like the fans, the gov't too has high stakes in the match as soccer is considered a great unifier in the country. Even with the bitterness in the English speaking regions of the country and the strong sentiment for secession, there are still reports that fans there watch lions matches and jubilate on their victories and commentators say the victory in the final would advance government's agenda in that direction.
President Paul Biya has offered an encouraging envelop of FCFA 100 million ($163,956) special encouragement to bolster the morale of the team.
A special envoy of the leader handed the cash to the team in Libraville late Saturday.
"This has nothing to do with your match bonuses. If there's anything related to bonuses the Minister of sports will handle it," Dieudonne Samba, Special Adviser at the Presidency of the Republic and the leader's emissary to Gabon told Hugo Broos and his boys.