Former internationals Joseph-Antoine Bell and El Hadji Diouf have praised the stadia which will be used for January’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
The pair were among 11 former international footballers who recently toured the facilities that will be used during the continental finals.
The showpiece event will feature some of the best players on the planet, including Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegalese duo Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly while Riyad Mahrez will be looking to defend Algeria’s title.
Six stadia will be used for the tournament, including two in the capital Yaounde: the refurbished Ahmadou Ahidjo and a brand-new one in the Olembe area of the city, where the opening game and final will be played.
Douala also has a new facility – the Japoma Stadium, which hosted the delayed 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) earlier this year – while the other venues are in the towns of Bafoussam, Limbe and Garoua.
Following his tour, former Senegal striker Diouf was impressed with what he had seen.
“The stadiums in Cameroon are of world-class standards,” the two-time African Footballer of the Year said.
“I’ve played in some of the best championships worldwide and the infrastructure I see in Cameroon for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is incredible.
“As an African, I’m proud of the facilities I’ve seen in Cameroon. I look at the Japoma Stadium and it’s a notch higher compared to some stadiums that have hosted World Cup games.
“It’s nice to see that the Afcon will be played on such wonderful infrastructure. It is foretelling of a great tournament in January and February next year.”
On Monday, the Confederation of African Football’s Executive Committee ‘raised some sanitary matters’ as it looks to improve both ‘the Covid-19 situation and preparations for supporters’ ahead of January.
Built for the future
As well as the match venues, training pitches have been upgraded and will ensure more high-quality surfaces are available for teams of all levels in the future.
Goalkeeper Bell, who played for the Indomitable Lions at the 1994 World Cup and twice won the Nations Cup, is hopeful the new facilities will help future generations.
“More than 40 years ago I played in Cameroon’s domestic championship and we didn’t have good infrastructure,” he explained.
“As a goalkeeper, at times I had to wear double layers to protect my knees and arms because we used to play on stony pitches.
“Some of the pitches were muddy and we knew that when playing a game, we had two major obstacles – the opponent and then the pitch.
“But now the situation is different. Cameroon has at least 34 stadiums and kids can play in better conditions. For long we had the players but didn’t have such incredible infrastructure.
“Now that we have the infrastructure, we can produce better players,” he rallied.
It is a marked improvement for Cameroon who, back in November 2018, were stripped of the right to host the 2019 Nations Cup because of delays in the progress of their preparations for the tournament.
All the venues have now hosted either a full or Under-20 international match or a continental club game.