Andre Onana made a successful return from a lengthy drug suspension as he kept a clean sheet for Cameroon in its World Cup qualifier at the weekend and could prove pivotal to his country’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s finals in Qatar.
A 4-0 win for Cameroon over Malawi in Johannesburg on Saturday was the first match back for the 25-year-old goalkeeper since January, when he received a one-year ban by European football's governing body UEFA for violating doping rules.
But the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced the suspension to nine months following an appeal. He will be thrust further into the thick of things on Tuesday when Cameroon meets the Ivory Coast in its decisive Group D Qualifier in Yaounde.
The Indomitable Lions must win the home match or otherwise the Ivorians will advance instead to the last stage of Africa’s qualifiers in March, handing Cameroon a major blow as it gets ready to host the Africa Cup of Nations final in January.
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Onana has been rated among football’s top goalkeeping talents, and Cameroon coach Toni Conceicao had no hesitation picking him to play despite the risk of being rusty.
His ban ended on November 4 and he was allowed to resume first-team training at Ajax Amsterdam in September, but the club placed him in its reserve squad instead in anticipation of his departure.
Onana is expected to move in January to Inter Milan, according to Italian media reports, six months before the end of his contract at Ajax, which has said it will only use him as back-up to its38-year-old incumbent Remko Pasveer.
Onana tested positive for the banned substance furosemide in his urine after an out-of-competition check in October last year.
He explained that he had accidentally taken a pill containing the substance after mistaking his wife's medicine for aspirin, and it was on the basis of this argument that his ban was reduced by three months.