Tuesday, 8 June 2010

32 For 2010: Cameroon

When nostaligists think of Cameroon they think of one man, Roger Milla. One of the few bright sparks of the Italia 90 tournament (unless you are a German of course) is the flamboyance of the veteran striker's goal celebration that remain a staple of any highlight reel about Cameroon's World Cup exploits.

That tournament proved something of a watershed for African football in that it was the first time a team from that continent had progressed to the quarter finals of the World Cup. However, Italia 90 was not the Cameroon's debut in the finals. Previously, they had appeared in that wonderful 1982 tournament in Spain. While they didn't win a single match in their group they didn't lose one either. Unfortunately, two 0-0 draws against Peru and Poland plus an impressive 1-1 draw against the eventual winners Italy (featuring a younger Roger Milla) were not enough to see them through to the next stage.

In 2010, expectations for African teams will never be higher than ever and the continent, indeed the football World, will be looking to Cameroon, as one of the most established footballing nations to impress. Going against this current squad is their indifferent form in competitive fixtures. Like Nigeria, they left qualification for the World Cup late and a quarter final exit in CAN 2010 (albeit to an excellent Egypt side) was not an altogether inspiring turn out.

On the upside, their turnaround in results on the back end of their qualification coincided with the replacement of coach Otto Pfister with former Lyon, Rangers and PSG manager Paul Le Guen. The Frenchman's club fortunes have taken something of a downturn since his three Ligue 1 titles with OL and will be hoping to reignite his career in the World Cup. He has at his disposal some fantastic and exciting players.

Familiar names to Premier League fans are the two Tottenham defenders Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong. Just down the road is Arsenal's Alex Song, a player who is not held in the high regard universally but could prove to be a lynch pin. Former Liverpool and West Ham Rigobert Song is still an important part of the side which also includes former Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Newcastle player Geremi. The Bundesbag suggests that you check out Schalke midfielder Joel Matip. Marseilles' Stephane Mbia is very highly rated by the coach and so might be one to watch.

And then of course there is the captain Samuel Eto'o who despite what Roger Milla says has made a magnificent contribution to his national team on account of all those goals he has scored. It will be interesting to see if the three times Champions League winner's new found industry under Jose Mourinho at Inter can be exploited by Le Guen.

On balance then, a nice blend of experienced European club players playing in their home continent. I don't imagine that there will be much money on Cameroon winning the World Cup but do imagine that they would be popular winners. They face Denmark, Holland and Japan in their group. Pre-tournament form suggests that the Danes will be their main rival for a qualifying spot for the second round.

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