Football, like life, is full of landmark occasions. We all remember the day when we went to our first match, got our first kit and, for those lucky enough to become professional footballers, when they made their debut or scored their first goal. Gaelle Enganamouit added several entries to her list of milestones on Monday 8 June with Cameroon's maiden outing at a FIFA Women's World Cup™, her first goal at the tournament (soon followed by her first hat-trick for her country) and a Live Your Goals Player of the Match award in recognition of these exploits. But that was not all she was celebrating…
"This is a fantastic souvenir of my first World Cup match, but also a lovely birthday present!" the attacker told FIFA.com, beaming as she clutched the A2-size certificate attesting to her stellar performance. Technically the gift had come a little early, since she was born on 9 June, but we must not forget the time difference between Canada and Cameroon: by the time she was speaking, the clock had already struck 12 in her homeland.
As it happens, the freshly turned 23-year-old has a habit of shining on the day before she blows out the candles. "This date has always brought me luck," she revealed. "I remember that we played and won an African Championship qualifier on 8 June 2014, and I've played in and won a cup final on 8 June. This year we faced Ecuador on 8 June, we won and I scored three. I love this day!"
The last of nine siblings, including two brothers, Gaelle has gone from being the baby of the Enganamouit clan to helping to make their name known around the world. "When you're the little one, everyone wants to protect you. Now it's the youngest member who is the pride of the family." All the more so after her display in her country's Group C opener against Ecuador, in which she was involved in five of Cameroon's six goals, herself notching up three and in the process joining exalted German sharpshooters Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag at the top of the tournament's scoring charts.
Asked about her feelings about being in such distinguished company, the Eskilstuna United star responded candidly, without a hint of arrogance or false modesty: "It's definitely a dream to be up there, but I believe my place is among the best. I play in one of the biggest leagues in the world, in Sweden, and my ambition is to be the best. I know I can achieve that and that it hinges on working hard." Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu echoed this sentiment: "She's one of the top players in Sweden and already one of the best in Africa. She played really well today, but she can still do a lot better."
Enganamouit came into the tournament convinced that she and the team, the runners-up at last year's CAF African Women's Championship, would make a mark in Canada. Indeed, the little dance with which every strike against Ecuador was celebrated was no spur-of-the-moment thing. "We'd rehearsed it, it's true," admitted the creator of the routine that she has dubbed Pala Bella. "Because we knew that we were going to score a lot of goals in this World Cup," she added, a smile never leaving her face. The livewire forward had sounded a similar note a few days earlier: "We can win the World Cup and we want to prove that we're not here by accident."
Another big believer in their chances is iconic former striker Patrick M'Boma, who dropped in on the team's camp in Vancouver. "He's an older brother figure who played for the Lions for a long time and has a wealth of experience to share," Enganamouit noted. "He gave us a lot of advice; I just tried to take in what he said and put it into practice."
Though she was clearly thrilled by M'Boma's visit, she is too young to have followed his illustrious playing career. She draws her inspiration from another legendary Cameroonian marksman, on whom she models her game: "In my view Samuel Eto'o is the greatest forward in the world. I've always said that one day I will be the Samuel Eto'o of women's football."