Long road to World Cup for Lioness Leuko

From her parents' cocoa plantation to university in Versailles, it has been a long journey to get to a World Cup for Yvonne Leuko, who will be part of the Cameroon side taking on England in the last 16 on Sunday.

As a 15-year-old, Leuko would spend up to three hours at a time, from Friday to Sunday, travelling by bus to go and play football after helping her parents in the fields of their cocoa and coffee plantation in Kekem.

She would leave her home village to play football at the Princesse Mbanga club in a neighbouring region, enabling her to play with and against other girls -- Leuko did so despite her elder sister's reservations that football was "not for girls" and attempts to force her off the bus.

Her talent shone through and led her all the way to the Cameroon national youth teams.

Leuko has since made it all the way to the full national team, and on to the World Cup in France, a country she knows very well.

She left Cameroon and attended high school in France, before going to university in Versailles, just outside Paris, all the while continuing to pursue a career in football.

"It was very, very difficult at times," remembers the left-back, now aged 27, of the struggle to combine playing football with an education. She ended up with a degree in administration.

"I used to get up at 6am, get the train and then get on a bus to go to university. Then, on arriving home at 6pm, I would put my school bag down and pick up my sports bag."

Often she would not return home again until 2am, but the effort was worth it for Leuko, who went on to play in the French top division and now considers the country to be her "second home".

"I have been here for 11 years now and I have more ties in France than in Cameroon. My family is in Cameroon but my other relationships are all here."

Leuko, who as a 17-year-old had a trial with a German team before opting to stay in France, now plays in the French second tier with a club in Strasbourg.

Sunday's clash with England in Valenciennes will be a big step up from that level for Leuko, but Cameroon's Indomitable Lionesses have showed up well at the World Cup so far.

They went down fighting against Canada and the Netherlands before beating New Zealand 2-1 in Montpellier thanks to a dramatic late goal by Ajara Nchout to qualify for the last 16.

"They are strong," Leuko said of England, "but I told my teammates to remember that we were in a very difficult group, and if we got out of our group it shows that we are strong."

She added: "We are a seasoned side, we have played Canada, the Netherlands. We are ready."

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