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Soccer News of Thursday, 7 February 2008

Source: This Day (Lagos)

Ghana-Cameroon: A Tale of Two Coaches

Today's super clash between Ghana's Black Stars and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon throws up very interesting perspectives in the chequered history of the two teams, particularly from the technical bench.

Ghana and Cameroon meet only for the 12th time since 1967 and both teams have foreign technical handlers - one a French sexagenarian and the other a German septuagenarian - whose careers were defined while handling their next opponents.

Both coaches are journeymen who have spent the best part of their careers in Africa, over two decades, and were once famous men in Cameroon and Ghana. For Ghana's Coach Claude Le Roy, who turns 60 today, his claim to fame is a winner's medal at the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations when he coached Cameroon to win their second continental title in Morocco.

He preceded from there to qualify the Indomitable Lions for the 1990 World Cup finals but was sacked and replaced with the Russian Nepomniachi before the team left for the Mundial in Italy.

He is presently the all-time leading coach for number of matches handled in the tournament's history. Ghana's semi-final clash with Cameroon in Accra today represents a record 27 Nations Cup matches the Frenchman will be handling since he first led the Indomitable Lions to runners-up position at the 1986 Nations Cup in Egypt.

Cameroon's German Coach Otto Pfister achieved cult status in Ghana football after leading the Black Starlets to win the FIFA Under-17 championship in Italy and later guided the Abedi Pele-led Black Stars to finish as runners-up to Cote d'Ivoire in the final of the 1992 Nations Cup in Senegal. Those were truly special moments in Ghana's football history after several years of under-achievement.

Both Le Roy and Pfister still carry sentimental feelings about those proud moments of their careers but it will be business as usual today as they bring their rich experience to bear on their teams in search of a place in Sunday's epic final.

Le Roy, who is at his sixth Nations Cup as coach, claims the present Black Stars squad comes closer in class to his all-conquering Cameroon side of 1988, featuring the legendary Roger Milla, Theophile Abega, Emmanuel Kunde and goalkeeper Thomas N'kono. The Frenchman's Nations Cup odyssey began in 1986 with Cameroon and he led the fearsome Lions to continental glory two years later in Morocco.

In 1990 and 1992, he coached Senegal and two years ago took charge of Congo DR, taking them to the quarter-finals of the Nations Cup in Egypt.

Ghana is the fourth national team Le Roy has managed after his stints with Cameroon, Senegal and DR Congo. Age has not slowed down the chain-smoking Pfister who is, perhaps, one of the best known faces in African football in the last three decades, both at club and national levels. Although some of his strength may have deserted him, the German is as active today as he was 30 years ago when he led the then Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) to the 1978 Nations Cup in Ghana.

Pfister, who was appointed Cameroon coach last October, makes his third Nations Cup appearance with deep knowledge of the African game since his first managerial appointment in 1972 with the Rwanda national team.

That teutonic football knowledge has enabled him to chalk up some successes on the continent, including winning the 1983 African Under-19 championship with Cote d'Ivoire, the Egyptian championship, the CAF Cup Winners' Cup and the African Super Cup with Zamalek and the Tunisian championship title with CS Sfaxien.

The German, though, is a coaching paradox. Although he received training in his native Cologne in the 1960s, he never coached in Germany but practised his career with Swiss club FC Chur before his sojourn into Africa which has seen him work in countries such as Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Zaire, Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia, The Sudan, Togo and Cameroon.

During his stint in Ghana, Pfister's fame transcended football. His unconventional style of wearing his trousers on the hip, rather than the waist, has become a fashion trend among the youth.