NGOURA, CAMEROON - As the World Cup nears its climax, one of the players being cheered on in Africa is French striker Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe's mother is from Algeria and his father is from Cameroon. While Cameroon failed to qualify for this year's World Cup, many Cameroonians feel they are represented by Mbappe.
"France are performing very well and if you see them qualifying, it is because of Kylian Mbappe," said Marcel Leinyuy, owner of Terminus bar in Makepe, a neighborhood in Cameroon's economic capital, Douala. The bar was re-baptized "Mbappe" after the player scored two goals in France's 4-3 victory over Argentina in the World Cup.
"I wish our football federation could have called him to play for us in the national team. When you look at our own national team, you see there is something missing of which Mbappe has," Leinyuy said.
Mbappe, whose Cameroonian father is his agent, is one of 15 players on the French squad who were either born in Africa or can trace their roots back to the continent, parts of which France ruled at one time as a colonial power.
Mbappe became a professional player in Monaco at the age of 16, just three years ago.
He has never lived nor played in Cameroon, but his performances attracted the attention of the Cameroon Football Federation, and he was contacted to play for the national team, nicknamed the Indomitable Lions. But French coach Didier Deschamps already had keen eyes for him.
Soccer analyst and former Cameroon premier league player Gabriel Tsila says it is a great loss that Cameroon failed to get Mbappe to play for his father's homeland.
Tsila says the team needed Mbappe to bring Cameroon's football (soccer) back to glory, but their local football federation neglected him. He says it is a shame that Cameroon abandoned Mbappe to France at a time when central African states' football has taken a downward turn due to a lack of talented players.
Cameroon's national team is the African champion. However, the squad was eliminated from the race to the 2018 World Cup after a one-all tie last year with Nigeria.
Local football fans say if they had players like Mbappe, they would have performed better.
Nonetheless, thousands of Cameroonian World Cup fans will cheer on Mbappe, who they see as a fellow countryman playing for a nation with deep ties to Cameroon.