Arnaud Djoum hoping for final flourish with Cameroon

Arnaud Djoum skips away from Ghanas Jordan Ayew in the semi-final. Picture: Sunday Alamba
Arnaud Djoum skips away from Ghanas Jordan Ayew in the semi-final. Picture: Sunday Alamba
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Arnaud Djoum only needs to glance at his phone to realise the scale of his achievements with Cameroon.

The Hearts midfielder has been inundated with pictures and videos from his family in Yaounde, telling the story of a city gripped by football fever after Hugo Broos’ largely unheralded side reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Without the superstar names of yesteryear – Samuel Eto’o, Rigobert Song, Geremi – the Indomitable Lions are 90 minutes away from ending a barren spell stretching back to 2002 and claiming the trophy for the fifth time.

And, in a rare success story for Scotland on the world stage, a representative of the SPFL has been at the heart of it.

Djoum has been taken aback by the reaction to Cameroon’s run in Gabon, which will see them face Egypt this evening, and humbled by the experience of the tournament.

“My grandparents and uncles are in Cameroon and they have been showing me what the atmosphere is like and how the people are reacting. The pictures and the videos are just amazing,” said Djoum.

“It is crazy, the people are so happy – they are dancing on the streets and celebrating. I was told that there has been a three-day party after we reached the final, with singing and dancing.

“All the players hear about that and it makes us very proud and more determined to succeed. What will it be like if we win the trophy? I think it will be like nothing I have ever experienced. That is the plan – to win this trophy and take it back to enjoy the celebrations with all of the fans.”

While Djoum was raised in Belgium and represented them at youth level, he was born in Yaounde before leaving the country aged four and his passion for his native country has never wavered.

He grew up watching Cameroon dominate the continent, winning this tournament in 2000 and 2002 and dreaming of emulating the feats of a golden generation.

“I still remember watching those games, I was a little boy and of course you dream of doing what Eto’o and those stars did,” Djoum continued. “But to actually be here is hard to believe.

“But everyone has worked very hard for this opportunity. We are following some great teams and great players – but hopefully this group can create some history today.”

Djoum, much like the Indomitable Lions themselves, has grown into the tournament.

He did not feature in the group stage but has emerged as a key figure in the heart of midfield during wins over much-fancied Senegal and Ghana in the knockout phase.

He now looks certain to start tonight’s final at the Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville.

It is an astonishing journey for a player who was without a club just 18 months ago following a dismal stint in Poland with Lech Poznan before then-Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson took a punt on the rangy playmaker.

“I will always appreciate Robbie bringing me to a club like Hearts and giving me the opportunity to play, perform well and enjoy my football,” added Djoum. “Hearts are a special club to me and have given me a lot – without them I would not have the chance to play for my country on this stage.”