Many's main association with African soccer is Cameroon. It may just be the nickname - the Indomitable Lions - being amongst the best in international football. More likely, it is because of 1990 when they made the quarterfinals in Italy, winning a group that included Argentina, Romania and the Soviet Union, reaching the tournament's quarterfinals before losing in extra time to England. In the process, Cameroon likely romanced the current generation of English-language football punditry, the effects of which may be perpetuating the esteem surrounding Cameroon's national team.
I mention this unfounded theory because it has been some time since the Lions have truly been indomitable. Following 1990, Cameroon qualified for three straight World Cups, failing to get out of their group each time, winning only one of nine matches, scoring seven goals while allowing 19. In 2006, they failed to qualify at all. They did win African Cup of Nations championship in 2000 and 2002, but in three of the last four tournaments they have failed to get beyond the round of eight.
January's Cup of Nations was a metaphor for the entire state of Cameroon football. The "Domitable" Lions lost their opening match to an improving Gabon team before narrowly beating Zambia, with their third match draw against Tunisia allowing them to advance on a tiebreaker. In the quarterfinals they scored the first goal against Egypt though quickly allowed an equalizer and, when the match went to extra time, allowed the match-winning goal within two minutes of the bonus period's start.
There was the idea that bringing in Paul Le Guen, the three-time winner of France's Ligue 1 with Olympique Lyonnais, would bring some focus and organization to the talented underachievers. He seemed to have an immediate effect in Cameroon's World Cup qualifying, lifting the Lions from last place in Group A to eventually claim the quartet's one World Cup birth. But at January's continental championships in Africa, any positive effect Le Guen had instilled seemed to disappear. In four matches, Cameroon's only scalp was Zambia's.
There is a school of thought that says Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Nigeria's CAN performances can be written off to the nations not taking the competition seriously, but when two nations with major injury absences make the tournament's final, there are only so many excuses you can afford Egypt and Ghana's fellow African powers.
Until they show otherwise, Cameroon is "domitable."
How They Got Here
Cameroon entered CAF qualifying in the second round, getting 16 out of a possible 18 points in a group that included Cape Verde, Tanzania, Mauritius.
Drawn into a third round group with Morocco, Cameroon looked to have strong opposition for their quartet's only World Cup spot, but when Morocco inexplicably morphed from challenger to pretender, Cameroon suddenly had the easiest qualifying group. Yet, after two rounds (or, one third of the way through Africa's final qualifying stage), Cameroon was last in their group.
Insert Paul Le Guen, who seemed to right the ship with successive victories over previously first place Gabon. Cameroon would finish with 13 points in six matches, earning passage to South Africa with a four point cushion.
How They've Fared Before
Cameroon qualified for their first World Cup in 1982, drawing three times and barely missing-out on the knock-out round. They missed the 1986 World Cup but returned in 1990 to go on the run which still serves as their legacy.
In nine World Cup matches between 1994 and 2002, they won once - a 1-0 victory over a Saudi Arabia team that allowed twelve goals without scoring in Japan-Korea.
Jean Makoun, pictured here with his club side Lyon, will be one of the mainstays in Paul Le Guen's midfield. (Photo Content © 2010 ZumaPress All rights reserved.)
Players to Watch
Samuel Eto'o is the most recognizable Cameroonian footballer, be it on the club level or internationally. He will be a key figure for Internazionale in Saturday's UEFA Champions League fina,l one year removed from scoring a goal for Barcelona in last year's final. For the Lions, he has 92 caps and 44 goals, the latter a record.
With the emergence of Alexander Song in defensive midfield, Jean Makoun should be allowed more room to create. The 26-year-old Lyon midfielder has 46 appearances in the national team, having scored nine goals. The 22-year-old Song, younger brother of Rigobert (the most capped player in Cameroon history), will play a critical role breaking up the play of group-mates Netherlands, Denmark and Japan.
Espanyol's Carlos Kameni can be an asset in goal, but he will have to play much better than he did in at the Cup of Nations. Kameni's errors were a major reason why Cameroon underachieved in Angola.
How Far Can They Get
Cameroon should expect to get out of their group, but it should not shock anybody to see them struggle in their first two matches and finish near the bottom. There are no easy teams in Group E.
Should they meet expectations, they will likely face Italy (possibly Paraguay) in the Round of 16. If there's any year you want to meet the Azzurri, this is it, as the defending champions look creeky and cranky.
Best case scenario, and the Indomitable Lions match 1990's exploits. First things first: Le Guen and Cameroon need to focus on Japan and Denmark, because each nation is capable of beating Cameroon should the Lions replicate their Angola showing.
|June 24||Netherlands||Cape Town|
|Assembé, N'dy||24||0||0||Valenciennes (France)|
|Hamidou, Souleymanou||36||40||0||Kayserispor (Turkey)|
|Kameni, Carlos||26||58||0||Espanyol (Spain)|
|Abouna, Jean Patrick||21||0||0||Astres FC (Cameroon)|
|Assou-Ekotto, Benoit||26||4||0||Tottenham (England)|
|Bassong, Sebastien||23||3||0||Tottenham (England)|
|Bong, Gaetan||22||0||0||Valenciennes (France)|
|Boukar, Makadji||26||0||0||Cotonsport Garoua (Cameroon)|
|Chedjou, Aurelien||24||8||0||Lille (France)|
|Mbia, Stephane||24||29||3||Marseille (France)|
|N'Koulou, Nicolas||20||6||0||Monaco (France)|
|Njitap, Germemi||21||109||12||Ankaragucu (Turkey)|
|Song, Rigobert||33||133||5||Trabzonspor (Turkey)|
|Emana, Achille||28||32||6||Real Betis (Spain)|
|Enoh, Eyong||24||12||0||Ajax (Netherlands)|
|Makoun, Jean||27||46||9||Lyon (France)|
|Mandjeck, Georges||21||4||1||Kaiserslautern (Germany)|
|Matip, Joel||18||1||0||Schalke 04 (Germany)|
|Mevoungou, Patrick||24||0||0||Canon Taounde (Cameroon)|
|N'Guermo, Landry||24||17||2||Celtic (Scotland)|
|Ndjeng, Marcel||28||0||0||FC Ausburg (Germany)|
|Song, Alexandre||22||20||0||Arsenal (England)|
|Choup-Moting, Eric||21||0||0||Nuremburg (Germany)|
|Eto'o, Samuel||29||92||44||Internazionale (Italy)|
|Idrissou, Mohammadou||30||28||9||Freiburg (Germany)|
|Kouemaha, Dorge||26||2||0||Club Brugge (Belgium)|
|Pate, Vincent||24||0||0||Cotonsport Garoua (Cameron)|
|Webo, Pierre||28||39||13||Mallorca (Spain)|
|Zoua, Jacques||18||2||0||FC Basel (Switzerland)|
* - age as of June 11, 2010