Cameroon Camp Focus – First blood drawn

The 2010 World Cup has been hailed as a momentous occasion being the first finals to be held in Africa. It is then somewhat ironic that Cameroon, Africa’s most successful team at the World Cup, became the first side to exit the tournament. Amidst the vuvuzela horns, the Indomitable Lions can now only hope for a calm taming against the Netherlands.

Since arriving, the Lions have looked anything but indomitable, failing to win one game and netting only one goal, unsurprisingly from Samuel Eto’o. The forward may have scored his nation’s only goal of the finals, but as he trudged off the pitch head hung in shame, he will know that slim chances of arguments in his defence will be obliterated quicker than Cameroon themselves. Along with Wayne Rooney, the Inter striker has failed to live up to his fearsome reputation as one of the world’s best forwards. While one could argue the possibility of burnout (Eto’o playing a tremendous amount of games at club level this season while winning the treble), the extra responsibility as captain was not properly shouldered by the Cameroonian talisman.

Throughout the qualifiers Samuel Eto’o’s erratic behaviour and troubles among the camp has done little to unite the Lions, spreading unease amongst the squad. The dispute with Roger Milla must burn with a hint of irony that perhaps the legendary forward was proven right. The man who dragged the Indomitable Lions to the quarter-finals of Italia 90 was critical of Eto’o’s weak performances at international level and also suggesting the issue of Eto’o was also “a question of discipline.” While Eto’o vehemently rebutted Milla’s comments, the Cameroon No.9 has been virtually missing in the finals so far and was red carded for a petulant performance in the warm-up matches. The rest of the squad and nation will be questioning whether Milla was in fact right.

Cameroon certainly displayed a stronger performance against Denmark than the lazy outing against Japan, going into the crucial clash in a desperate position, hoping to qualify for the last-16 and clearly trying harder. In the aftermath of Raymond Domenech’s French disaster, the plight of French coaches was not alleviated by Paul Le Guen as his Cameroonian side were beaten, left wondering what could have been had Le Guen played this starting XI in their opening clash against Japan. Le Guen’s poor early choices against the Japanese with a purposely weakened XI put Cameroon’s tournament in jeopardy but he remedied his obvious errors, switching to a 4-3-1-2 formation and starting Achille Emana and Alex Song. Le Guen also resorted to the changed formation to centralise Samuel Eto’o, which paid off as the three-time African Player of the Year scored 10 minutes in. Eto’o’s goal clearly lifted the Africans’ spirits but the resurrection of Cameroon came too little too late, the spirit was there but should have been there from the beginning.

After losing two consecutive games and being knocked out, the only accolade Cameroon will be credited with is the first team to be knocked out of South Africa 2010. Le Guen will rue the fact that so far one of the World Cup’s most entertaining matches was the calling card of his side’s exit, continuing a winless streak stretching back to the African Cup of Nations. It was not surprising that the entire Cameroonian squad and nation looked to Samuel Eto’o for hope in the finals but perhaps that was their failure – Le Guen did not spread the responsibility evenly through the team. The finals showcased the experience of Achille Emana and Alexandre Song, which clearly made the difference, more so than Eto’o. Song deputised well in the centre of midfield and also slotted in well at centre back allowing the attackers to press forward. However, Emana was the real star of the Lions short-lived World Cup – the Real Betis man added spark, passion and constantly burst forward, shooting from distance and made the assist for their only goal.

In the aftermath of the comments from Roger Milla before the World Cup, Eto’o asked of his nation “are they really my people?” Judging by his performances through the warm-ups and finals, the Cameroonian people will no doubt be asking whether Eto’o is really their player. In the hunt for the World Cup for the first time on African soil, first blood has been drawn, and sadly it is the blood of Africa’s Lions.

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