Ambroise Oyongo had a good time playing for his country over the last week, starting in both of Cameroon's 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifying matches. The team beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-0 in Lubumbashi (i.e. not in Cameroon) on September 6, and crushed Ivory Coast 4-1 in Yaounde (i.e. in Cameroon) on September 10.
The latter result was the more impressive. Ivory Coast called up a strong squad for these qualifiers, including Yaya Toure (who scored in Cameroon), Gervinho and Serge Aurier. In a pre-match interview, Oyongo (who would seem to go by his other surname - Bitolo - when back home; has anyone asked which he prefers?) said he and his teammates would need to "play as if it was a final".
They did. They won.
Six points puts Cameroon at the top of its group, an encouraging start: the top two teams in the group (comprising DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Oyongo's Indomitable Lions) will qualify for January's 16-team final stage in Morocco.
The Lions made a mockery of their "indomitable" tag during a wretched World Cup this summer: three losses, one goal, a -8 goal difference, and last place in the final rankings for the tournament. Head coach Volker Fincke somehow survived the debacle, and he has sought to find a fresh page for Cameroonian football - a page featuring a cluster of young talents, including Oyongo.
Back-to-back victories would appear to vindicate Fincke's youth policy. The heroes of the last two games were Barcelona B 'keeper Fabrice Ondoa (18 years old), Porto's Vincent Aboubakar (22; scored once against DR Congo and twice against Ivory Coast) and Lyon's Clinton N'Jie (21; also scored three goals in Cameroon's last two games) - all younger than the 23-year-old Oyongo.
But he is part of the emerging generation tapped by Fincke to refresh the national team's reputation. So far, so good.
The promising start should mean Oyongo gets called back to the squad for October's qualifiers (home and away against Sierra Leone, October 10-15). If those go well, he should also be in the frame for the last two games of the group stage in November.
This will no doubt inconvenience the Red Bulls (especially if they are still playing competitive games in November), but it is for the long-term benefit of the player and the club. RBNY wants to be a place where reputations are made, not merely affirmed.
In other news, the club's US U20 contingent - Santiago Castano and Matt Miazga - wrapped up a successful mini-tour of Argentina. Both players featured in all three games for Tab Ramos's squad, and the U20s finished the tour undefeated: two wins and a draw.
Add in Tim Cahill's goal for Australia against Saudi Arabia, and it was a pretty good run for RBNY's representatives in the September internationals. Here's hoping they put the experience to good use for the Red Bulls' brutal end-of-season schedule.