FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™

FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™

France 2019

Lionnes heap praise on lively duo

Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck of Cameroon poses for a portrait
© Getty Images
  • Henriette Akaba and Genevieve Ngo Mbleck adding life to Cameroon squad
  • Pair are keeping spirits high ahead of crucial Netherlands clash
  • Les Lionnes meet European champions in Valenciennes on Saturday

By Cynthia Nzetia with Cameroon

Cameroon's FIFA Women’s World Cup™ did not get off to the best start. Suffering a 1-0 defeat against Canada in Montpellier, to stay in control of their France 2019 adventure, a win versus the Netherlands on Saturday is vital.

In between those two Group E encounters, they've had several days to mull over that loss. While that could drag on within some squads, it's not the case in Cameroon’s, all thanks to a high-spirited twosome who ensure there is never a dull moment.

“Before you right now, you’ve got the two Cameroon players who add the most to the atmosphere,” said a grinning Henriette Akaba, accompanied by Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck, as they head for the interview room sit-down with FIFA.com.

Akaba is just the self-proclaimed life of the party, with Lionnes defender Estelle Johnson picking her out as the squad’s top dancer. “It’s in her blood – she knows all the dances from every region in the country,” she said, laughing.

Akaba is happy to bask in her entertainer-in-chief role, but she knows the time and the place. “I’m lucky to be here, I’ve got a fantastic job and I’m in good health, so why would I complain?” she remarked. “But don’t mistake my attitude for slackness. I’m an extremely competitive person. I love winning, and I hate losing.”

Henriette Akaba of Cameroon poses for a portrait
© Getty Images

As well as victories, the forward also simply loves playing the beautiful game, which she tries to study up on as much as possible. Very attentive when the team sat down with referees pre-tournament, she was the Cameroon representative who asked the most questions, alongside her coach, Alain Djeumfa.

It's an attitude that impresses her team-mates, but does not surprise them. “Henriette could spend her life watching football matches, figuring them out, replaying them in her head,” explained fellow squad member Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene. “Just two days ago, she was still talking about the tactics on show during the UEFA Champions League final. She’s a true football lover – it’s one of her personality traits that I really like.”

Another world

Genevieve Ngo Mbeleck, another one of Cameroon’s outstanding players, is also highly popular among her team-mates, who call her 'Mbeleck', removing the 'Ngo' (which means 'girl' in several languages spoken in central Africa). “We do that because she’s grown up; you can see that she’s more mature in the way she plays the game. There’s no need for the ‘Ngo’ anymore,” explained vice-captain Augustine Ejangue.

She may have matured, but she has apparently not lost touch with her inner child, and she is rarely seen without her portable speaker. “It’s like it’s attached to her arm!” said Madeleine Ngono Mani with a smile.

Always ready to liven things up, Ngo Mbeleck is the undisputed queen of the “FouFap”, the celebratory dance performed by the players whenever they score a goal. “You’ll have seen it when we got off the bus in Montpellier – Mbeleck inhabits a different world, maybe even a different universe!” exclaimed Ysis Sonkeng, laughing.

“It’s not forced, because I couldn’t act in a way that isn’t me,” said the naturally effervescent midfielder. “Importing a bit of my culture when I’m out on the pitch is important to me.”

In Valenciennes against the Netherlands, with defeat leaving their progression hopes in jeopardy, Les Lionnes will need Akaba and Ngo Mbeleck to be at their most energetic. The Stade du Hainaut is set to be packed to the rafters, providing the bubbly pair with an even larger audience to entertain than usual.

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