Forward Franck Ohandza may be the only player in Cameroon’s FIFA U-20 World Cup squad not to ply his trade in either Africa or Europe, but in winning the penalty that led to his country’s goal against New Zealand in their opening match, his side’s only successful strike at the tournament so far, he ensured that fans would remember him for his achievements on the pitch.
Having recorded a 1-1 draw versus the Kiwis and a 1-0 defeat by Portugal, the Lions Indomptables currently prop up a tightly-contested Group B. But that has not stopped Ohandza from dreaming of a possible qualification for the knockout stage. “It’s going to be very hard against Uruguay, especially as they also require three points. But we’ll fight till the end – we know it’s all or nothing for us now,” he explained to FIFA.com.
Decisive moments are something to which the 19-year-old attacker is well accustomed. A native of Ngong, a small village in central Cameroon, he chose to leave home a year ago. His initial destination, like so many African players before him, was Europe. “I was with Daga Sport in Douala, and I just got itchy feet. I took part in a few trials in Europe, which led to me signing for Bruges,” he recalled.
The Belgian outfit then immediately sent Ohandza out on loan. This time his landing-place was a little more unusual: Buriram PEA, a club based in Thailand. While many players might have been disappointed with this turn of events, the young Cameroonian viewed the move positively.
“It’s a great experience, because it’s a tougher league than we’ve got back home. It’s a good place to properly start my career,” he pointed out. With nine goals in 17 matches, it certainly appears to have worked out for him – he is currently among the Thai league’s five leading scorers, and his team sit proudly at the top of the division.
Although he set off to south-east Asia alone, he has quickly made himself at home. Foreign players abound in Thailand, with Brazilians, Ghanaians and Ivoirians all having made similar journeys to Ohandza’s. But the frontman’s main aim remains a return to Europe, and he has been working hard to make sure that happens.
“I’ve tried to put in some extra effort. I’ve forced myself to train more often; I train at least twice a day, because that’s what I need to do in order to hold my own in a European league,” he said.
As far as the immediate future is concerned, he has no desire to depart the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 just yet, and certainly not without putting up a fight. For Ohandza, finding solutions to the problems Cameroon have encountered up to now would represent the first step in this battle.
“We need to play more as a team and less as individuals. And we have to speak to each other more during games. We’re not lacking in talent; I actually think that overall we’re a stronger side than at the African Youth Championship. But we’re missing something crucial: fighting spirit,” Ohandza explained candidly.
Ohandza will look to motivate his team-mates indirectly, through his abundant energy and tireless running. Asked to pinpoint his own strengths himself, he highlights his pace and his ability to hold up the ball. And although he admits that his finishing could be improved, he claims to have been working hard on that area of his game. The match against Uruguay in Bogota would be an excellent place to demonstrate the fruit of his labours.