The Cameroon women's national team have twice qualified for the finals of a global competition, and both times Christine Manie was closely associated with the achievement. FIFA.com spoke to the captain of Les Lionesses and found out what it means to her to be able to lead the team at their FIFA Women's World Cup™ debut in Canada later this year.
Cameroon qualified for the showpiece event of women's football courtesy of a dramatic winner in the 118th minute by Manie against Côte d'Ivoire in the last four of the 2014 African Women's Championship. Three years earlier, the defender scored an equally important goal in the final round of qualifying for the London Olympics against Nigeria, who were considered overwhelming favourites. The Super Falcons won the home leg 2-1, but found the return leg in Yaounde much tougher, and again it was Manie who played an important part in deciding the outcome of the game, stepping up in the first half to give her side a 2-0 lead from the penalty spot. Although African legend Perpetua Nkwocha pulled one back, the tie had to be decided on penalties and Cameroon prevailed. Despite their historic importance to women's football in Cameroon, for Manie, her two goals are of little importance.
“Football is a team game, and as captain of the team, you have to take your responsibilities," she said. "Against Nigeria, I took the penalty kick, as I am in charge of the penalty kicks. Everyone trusts me, players as well as coaches. And Against Côte d'Ivoire, it was a corner kick, and I headed the ball home. Scoring is not only a striker's responsibility.”
A Canadian adventure
If everything goes according to plan, Manie says she will proudly lead the team in Canada, where they have been drawn into Group C, alongside Japan, Switzerland and Ecuador. “Being the captain of this team is a great matter of pride, all the more as it’s the first time Cameroon has qualified for the World Cup. It is a pleasure, a feeling that is difficult to convey. It is a great achievement for us, that became possible because we believed in ourselves. It is possible to have a very big career and never play in the World Cup. So it is a privilege for us.”
To some extent, the Cameroonians figure to be playing catch up to some of the best women's sides in the world. “The World Cup is a very tough and demanding tournament. It is not the African championships, it is the World Cup, but we have to believe in ourselves. All the qualified teams are very good, so all the teams in our group are very good teams, especially Japan, who are the best in the world as they are the holders. All we can do is work, as work pays off in the end.”
Cameroon's involvement at the Olympics was disappointing as they lost all three matches, conceding 11 goals and scoring just one. But Manie thinks that experience will point the way forward in Canada. “It was the first time Cameroon took part in the Olympic Games. In spite of our failure, it was great for us. We learned so many lessons, that, I think, will be helpful for the World Cup. We are going to try to do better than at the Olympics.”
Life in Romania
It is not surprising that Manie is not fearful of facing Japan as she is not averse to taking on challenges. “I started playing football in boys' teams when I was seven or eight. It was not very competitive then. I played after school, but when I was older, my parents struggled to pay for my education and I decided to focus on football.”
She joined a club playing in the top league in Cameroon, but kept on dreaming of playing overseas. That dream materialised when she signed a contract with Romanians CFF Olimpia Cluj a few years ago. She has since gone on to win the Romanian league and cup and competed in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
“I am the only black player in Romania, and one of the only foreign ones. It is true Romania is far from my country and my family, but I chose to do this job, that can bring you to every corner of the world. For the moment, I play in Romania, I don’t know where I will play next. Only God decides.”