A former Cameroon international, Joseph-Antoine Bell is now known for his outspokenness in the media. In this exclusive interview with Sport News Africa, the two-time African champion from 1984 and 1988 talks about the excitement surrounding the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations. The former goalkeeper also voiced his concerns about the Cameroon national team, although he is not giving up on them for the tournament in Côte d'Ivoire. The former OM and ASSE goalkeeper was in Dakar for an event organized by Sport Impact.
Joseph-Antoine Bell, we're just two months away from the AFCON 2023 in Côte d'Ivoire. Given the forces at play, are we going to experience one of the greatest AFCONs in history?
In my experience, every upcoming competition is considered to be the best ever. Even if the so-called main players, those we see in the final analysis, may be different. But every competition is organized to be better than the last, with teams prepared to win. Soccer doesn't start with the footballers, and it's important that all those who come before the footballers get the job done properly. The success of the competition depends above all on their work.
Let's talk about Cameroon's Pool C, nicknamed the "group of death" with defending champions Senegal, Gambia and Guinea...
I wouldn't call it the "group of death" because, after all, in a 24-team AFCON, there probably won't be more than one death.I think we'll have one "death" and three qualifiers in this group. We'll have to fight to take one of those three places.
This is the only group where all four teams qualified in the elimination phase at the last AFCON...
Given the quality of the four teams that made it through to the first round of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, the only downfall is that one of them will be extremely disappointed. Not because they're out, but because they didn't do as well as the last edition. That's guaranteed (laughs). So yes, in that sense there will be death in Group C.
What are Cameroon's chances in this AFCON, given their last outings in October?
I wouldn't venture to make any precise predictions just yet. For the simple reason that a lot can still happen to all the teams between November and the start of the tournament in January. Serious, credible predictions can only be made once the teams have played at least one match in this competition, or even after the group phase. Only then can teams be judged on their real consistency or potential.
Are you worried about Cameroon, who have been struggling since Song took over, with a record of 4 wins and 7 defeats?
Today, with the personality I have as a consultant at Rfi, I'm zen, I'm not a supporter of any team, I'm a supporter of the game.But if I look at this as a Cameroonian, I have reason to be worried. Yes, absolutely.
"It's hard to have a champion come out of nowhere".
Worried despite that typically Cameroonian mindset which assumes that Cameroon is always strong when the competition kicks off...
I'm glad you brought it up. You can't win by being bad (laughs). That's why I told you that we'll judge on the pitch. If they're good when the time comes, the past doesn't matter. You win with your present. But it's true that you prepare yourself so that you can show that winning face. The most important thing is how they get to the competition and what they're doing at the time. There are people who think about the competition ahead, there are those who make resolutions and those who project themselves by imagining the message and the methods of transmitting that message to the players to build something that leads to winning.
Which teams do you think are best equipped to win the AFCON in Côte d'Ivoire?
They're generally the same. There's one thing we have to remember. It's hard to have a champion come out of nowhere. But there are champions from time to time. Senegal recently entered the circle of champions.Which makes it even smaller instead of bigger (laughs). The chances are slimmer and slimmer to have a new team among the champions. As for the favourites for this AFCON, I'd say Senegal, Morocco, Algeria and Nigeria to a lesser degree. There will also be teams who can play spoil parties. Gambia could be a serious spoilsport.
In reality, the first round is much less important than it used to be. The fact is that getting out of the first round doesn't really get you any closer to the final than it used to. I think we've made things a little easier for everyone. You can boast about getting out of the first round, but in reality it wasn't difficult. The first round today only eliminates 6 teams out of 24.