If you are looking for one country on its way to Brazil that has packed its bus filled with waning stars and not-so-superstar players who will find a way to disrupt team harmony, you are talking about Cameroon.
The former darling of the West African region is filled with trouble-shooters and grudging players, surprisingly led by striker Samuel Eto’o Fils, one of the most experienced heads in the team.
The 33-year-old striker whose contract with Chelsea runs out in June has been a divisive figure in the national team, with controversy surrounding his every word or action: be it against the players or the country’s officials.
The world’s highest-paid player in 2011 during his time at Russian side Anzhi, the former Barcelona striker and winner of three Champions league titles escalated his troubles after joining the mega-rich Russian outfit.
Eto’o, who became the first player to be named African Player of the Year for four consecutive years, incited the team against honouring a friendly and was suspended for 15 games by the FECAFOOT, Cameroon’s football governing body (The ban was subsequently reduced drastically due to his ties with the country’s president, Paul Biya.). He also once alleged that there was a plot not to pass him the ball, and described the national set up as “amateurish and poorly-organised”. He refused to play against tiny Cape Verde as the Indomitable Lions failed to qualify for AFCON 2013.
Despite all his tantrums, the man who has scored over 200 career goals is still a talismanic influence on the pitch and his mere presence inspired the team to qualify for Brazil 2014, despite scoring just twice in the whole campaign. He is the country’s all-time highest goal scorer on 55 goals, and he will look to add more in Brazil.
Cameroon are going to their seventh World Cup and the Indomitable Lions look to have finally put their egos aside to try and replicate the glory days of Italia 1990, where they achieved their best result: a quarterfinal appearance and an unknown German coach, Volker Finke has been saddled with this huge target.
The 65-year-old took over a team in the process of transition, just in time to qualify them for Brazil. With the retirement of stars such as Geremi, Rigobert Song and Lauren, a group of fledgling youngsters led by Joel Matip and Nicolas N’Koulou has been mixed with regulars, such as Alex Song, Stephen Mbia, Jean III Makoun and Eyong Enoh.
A squad packed with players of immense physicality, the Cameroonian players are fit and can last the distance. They are also blessed with abundant pace and can shoot with deadly force and accuracy from distance.
In the Africa-like Brazil weather, the Indomitable Lions will be well-conditioned for any opposition and when they score first, they don’t relinquish the lead.
Although some familiar names are still in the side, the team lacks identity and definite shape: a hit-and-miss side that could look strong and then go flat within minutes. They don’t score as often as the team of the ‘90s and early 2000s. The defence, although filled with promise, has flattered to deceive and lacks understanding, being poor at defending set pieces, especially headers.
This is an opportunity for Alex Song, frequently benched at Barcelona, to show that he is still the defensive midfield lynchpin he once was at Arsenal and attract a few big-team suitors.