World Cup 2010 profile – Cameroon – Indomitable Lions look to restore pride in South Africa

Cameroon head to South Africa with a sense of pride and purpose. Pride in that they have qualified for the finals six times (more than any other African nation) and were the first African team to reach the quarter-finals, in 1990. Purpose in that they could be in the running to be the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Cameroon’s emergence of strength came in Italia 90 when they reached the last eight, shocking holders Argentina along the way. Since then, they have won the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations, saw an early exit at the World Cup in the same year and failed to qualify for Germany 2006.

Cameroon’s population of 19m are largely limited from football viewing due to poor resources and almost absent coverage of the top tiered league – the MTN Elite One. Established in 1961, the league features Cameroon’s 16 best clubs, the most successful being Canon Yaounde who have won 10 titles and the CAF Champions League. The lack of TV coverage leaves the clubs sparse of fans and funding. The hopes of funding clubs and keeping them alive lie with the countries celebrities – musicians and rich aristocrats as investors. The majority of Cameroon’s players all play in foreign leagues, notably Samuel Eto’o and a crop of talent in the Premier League such as Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Alexandre Song and Sebastian Bassong. Recent call-up Haman Sadjo is the only player to ply his trade in Cameroon for Sahel FC.

Cameroon are currently ranked 19th by FIFA and have undergone recent revamping under Paul Le Guen. The former Rangers manager came to Africa having won a host of trophies in France, including three Ligue 1 Championships and two French League Cups. He took the reigns of the national team midway through the qualification period and transformed the troubled side from mundane into free-flowing. Cameroon’s start to the qualification campaign saw them lose to Togo and draw against Morocco. Le Guen then replaced Otto Pfister as manager, bringing his own staff in and changing the formation to 4-3-3. Le Guen also stripped Rigobert Song of the captaincy, handing it to Samuel Eto’o. The team found a new confidence as well as new areas of the pitch to cover, pressing into the opposition wing-backs and feeding the frontmen more. Victories over Morocco and Gabon secured Cameroon’s place in 2010, a far cry from their efforts in 2002 and non-appearance in 2006.

Cameroon will hope to progress past the group stages of this year’s World Cup. Although graced with a talented squad, a difficult group could lead to early defeat at the hands of another international giant – the 2002 World Cup saw Cameroon eliminated by finalists Germany. Inter’s Eto’o has notched a plethora of awards – including the leading goalscorer in the history of the national team and African Player of the Year award three times – the dangerous forward will spearhead the attacking formation and give positivity to fans. The defence is a blend of youth and experience with Assou-Ekotto and the highly-rated Bassong partnering veterans Rigobert Song and Geremi. The most vital midfielder is arguably Alexandre Song, the young Arsenal midfielder (nephew of Rigobert) and one of the youngest in the squad, was voted in the Team of the Tournament at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. With his habit of popping up with vital assists and marshalling the middle of the park after becoming a regular in the Arsenal side, Song can bring the tough-tackling of the Premier League to midfield. The Indomitable Lions will have to keep an eye on their fiery temperament – legend Rigobert Song is red card prone and holds the distinction of being dismissed in two World Cups.

Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde serves as the home stadium. Built in 1972 and named after Cameroon’s first president, the stadium has a capacity of 38 720. The formerly notorious pitch, which was virtually unplayable a decade ago, has, along with the rest of the facility, been redeveloped. The previous pitch absorbed rain becoming a swamp where players were vulnerable to injury. A Japanese construction team dug it up, filled out the under layer with hard soil, filling the cracks of the top layer and replanted it with fresh grass to meet the standards of hosting matches by FIFA.

With the greatest prize in football on the horizon, Cameroon will hope to restore pride to the people and establish themselves once against as heavyweights of African football.

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