Afcon 2021: Andre Onana confident of Cameroon success after doing ban

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Andre Onana in action for CameroonAndre Onana played at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, when Cameroon were beaten in the last 16 by Nigeria
Dates: 9 January - 6 February Venue: Cameroon Coverage: Ten games shown live on the BBC in the UK, commentary on the BBC World Service in Africa and news, round-ups, reports and live text coverage on BBC Sport website

When Andre Onana takes his place between the posts for Cameroon in the opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday, it will provide a form of closure after one of the most difficult chapters of his career.

Onana has already gone some way towards that aim, having helped the Indomitable Lions to a crucial win over Ivory Coast in World Cup qualifying in just his second game back in November.

Now comes the challenge of a continental tournament on home soil, with pressure on Cameroon to win their sixth Nations Cup, but Onana is not daunted by what lies ahead.

"I'm always confident. I'm not afraid," he told BBC Sport Africa.

"My country had so many great players in the past, and they have won a lot of titles, but not so many had the chance to play at home.

"To play a Nations Cup at home is a big honour and a big responsibility. I have played in almost every big stadium, and all of the big competitions, but playing that competition at home is something special.

"We are a good team and I think we have to go for winning that competition. We are going to give everything to win."

There will be vast expectancy when Cameroon start their campaign against Burkina Faso, with national coach Toni Conciecao acknowledging their supporters "don't forgive failure".

Yet Onana hopes the bond the squad have with their home crowd will provide a boost to the side on the pitch.

"I know they are going to be there for us so we have to be there also for them," he said. "It's a good connection between them and us and we are in this together.

"I cannot even describe how I feel to know that competition is going to be at home. All my friends, all my village, all our cities, all our families are going to be there. This is something extra."

'You have to survive'

Rewind 11 months and Onana faced a moment which threatened to derail his career when he failed an out-of-competition drugs test.

The banned substance furosemide was found in a urine sample taken in October 2020, and his club side Ajax said Onana had mistakenly taken medication prescribed for his wife while feeling unwell.

In February last year, he was handed a 12-month ban - which would have ruled him out of this month's Nations Cup - but it was subsequently reduced to nine months by sport's highest legal body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Onana says he had no other option than to show mental strength during his time out of the game.

Ajax players wear shirts with 'Onana 24' on them in support of Andre OnanaOnana's Ajax team-mates - including Ivory Coast striker Sebastien Haller (far left) wore shirts bearing his name and number in a show of support after his ban was announced in February last year

"You have no choice when you are in this - somehow you have to survive," he said.

"It doesn't matter what happened, you always have to move on. Even if that sanction would have been two years, I would have come back even better.

"So, my goal was just, 'hey Andre, it's just a hit, but you have to move on'. The most important thing was I cannot throw away everything now.

"Since I was young, I wanted to become a big player. In my mind, I was thinking 'I will come back and I will show them I'm the king'."

An immediate impact on return

Onana's first two competitive matches back were World Cup qualifiers, and some key saves helped secure a 1-0 home win over Ivory Coast and a place in Africa's play-offs for the tournament in Qatar.

Cameroon are still waiting to found out their opponents in March's two-legged ties, with the draw being conducted later this month.

Onana felt a patriotic duty when lining up against Malawi and the Elephants on his return and kept clean sheets in 4-0 and 1-0 wins respectively.

"For me it was like, 'Andre, it doesn't matter if you didn't play for nine months, you have to come and win because this is so important for the country'," he said.

"It's very important for us because it's our dreams. We train every day to perform in these platforms. It's also what I said to the guys. I said 'Hey, this World Cup is our World Cup. We have to be there, it doesn't matter how'."

A message to Afcon opponents: 'I was born ready'

Andre Onana in action for AjaxOnana has only made two appearances for club side Ajax since returning from his ban

With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, Onana appears to be headed for the exit door at club side Ajax.

However, he was reintegrated into the first team squad after Maarten Stekelenburg suffered a season-ending injury.

Confined to the bench in the Dutch Eredivisie, he made one appearance in the Champions League against Besiktas and started a started a domestic cup match last month.

After Cameroon face the Burkinabe in their Group A opener at the Nations Cup, they take on Ethiopia on Thursday and Cape Verde on 17 January.

Burkina Faso pushed defending champions Algeria close in World Cup qualifying, but Onana is not concerned by any of their opponents.

"Me? I'm not afraid of anyone," he said. "My goal is to win, always to win. I was born ready.

"It doesn't matter who we are going to play against, we are ready. You know, even in qualification of the World Cup, the draw is going to be maybe in two or three weeks. It doesn't matter against who we are going to play, we have to go on.

"The most important thing is us - it's up to us. I know if we are good, we are going to go through, so I worry about us,"

Interview with Andre Onana by Mimi Fawaz.

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