This time round Cameroon’s shirt is not sleeveless, as they tried in France 2002, nor is it all of a piece with the shorts, as they tried in the 2004 African Nations campaign. But their current Puma shirt with its natty ‘Lions indomptables’ patterned imprint (link) could be the non-conformists’ choice this tournament (still more may opt for the ‘82 replica). Seven times qualified, one quarter final appearance and with a few genuine icons of the game in Roger Milla (just ask Walsall!) and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon can lay claim to the title of Africa’s most successful World Cup nation.
However, on Cameroon’s football blogs and news sites there is only a measured buzz about their prospects for Le Mondial 2014. That’s not because they do not have a strong squad, but more to do with the group confronting them as well as financial wrangles and disputed elections to its Fecafoot governing body, which appears to contain enough irregularities even to worry Fifa.
So the size of the players’ tournament fee ($104,000) as well as the specific sum Fecafoot was getting for Sunday’s Germany friendly – and how it intended to distribute it ‑ have topped the agenda. Throw in last July’s temporary suspension from Fifa over the Fecafoot ballot and the installment of an emergency committee over claims of government interference after complaints from losing candidates, and it would be easy to paint a picture of a typically messed up developing-world footballing nation. The Lions’ issues – a player’s worth when vast sums slush around the modern game, executive-body corruption, commercial interference (Puma seem to use Cameroon as a testing board for their wackier schemes) – may be more magnified and more disruptive but they merely match the wider game’s issues.
On the pitch, various blends of expectation and hope rest with Lorient’s Vincent Aboubakar, Mainz’s frenetically syllabic Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and the ageing-but-still-canny Eto’o, who now seems to be playing a less divisive role after rows with Alex Song and claims of a plot not to pass to him in the crucial Tunisia play-off. But the expected 23-man squad contains other experienced operators such as Jean Makoun and Song. Expect a decent showing too from Stéphane Mbia after he put his QPR nightmare behind him and won the UEFA cup with Sevilla. Truly, they have moved a long way from the 1990 Cameroon of the Englishman’s imagination, which Reuters in patronising style said won them ‘worldwide affection with their dogged style and colourful kit’. Xenophobes may argue they still play in a recognisably ‘African’ style, but their biggest issue – a lack of true inspiration and creativity to link the midfield with the strikers – are issues that dog teams the world over. It is this that German coach Volker Finke must address if calls for his sacking are not to get louder.
Having landed one of the toughest groups (Brazil, Croatia and Mexico), with a punishing travel schedule to match (Natal, Manaus and Brasilia), don’t expect dancing on the streets of Douala, Yaoundé and Garoua after a glorious negotiation of the group stages. But their decent 2-2 against Germany showed they will be able to compete.
For any African qualifier now, the goal is to exceed what Cameroon themselves did in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 and get past the quarter finals. With a draw like theirs, you can forgive the relative lack of optimism but solid performances will still be expected. Given Ivory Coast’s arguably easier group, the battle for supremacy in West Africa will also be tough.
Posted by Murray W