Group E: Cameroon

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The Indomitable Lions can count themselves a little lucky to have qualified, but they'll need more than good fortune to progress past a tough group...

Graham Gooch once described New Zealand’s bowling attack as being like facing a World XI at one end and Ilford Seconds at the other. Cameroon’s forward line feels much the same, with Samuel Eto’o in the Richard Hadlee role. In Angola for the African Cup of Nations, as Cameroon stuttered their way through the group before losing to Egypt in the quarter-final, there was a distinct sense of everybody looking at Eto’o and wondering when he was going to do something to turn the game.

That is not uncommon, but the problem with Eto’o is that his great gift as a player is his movement, something developed by studying matches on television to see where the space occurs. What that means, though, is that he needs team-mates capable both of reading his movement and of then delivering the pass; with Cameroon he doesn’t have them.

By being, by some distance, the highest-profile player in the squad, Eto’o inevitably becomes the dominant figure in the dressing room, and with his turbulent personality, that is not always a good thing.

When Paul Le Guen took over the Cameroon job from Otto Pfister last summer, he took the captaincy from Rigobert Song and gave it to Eto’o. That was partly to do with Song’s age, but it was also a political gesture designed to get Eto’o, who had been looking increasingly disaffected, back onside. It worked to the extent that Cameroon won their last four qualifiers to make it to South Africa, but the Cup of Nations suggested it isn’t necessarily a long-term solution.

“The younger players in the team have shown that they are capable of taking over from the older generation,” the Mallorca forward Achille Webo claimed after Angola. “They proved they can play with the best.” That seems a very generous assessment a side struggling in the transition from one generation to the next.

Former Liverpool and West Ham full-back Rigobert Song will be appearing in his fourth World Cup Finals having turned out in 1994, 1998 and 2002. The 33-year-old, uncle of Arsenal’s Alexandre Song, is still the youngest player to be sent off in a World Cup after his dismissal in the USA finals, aged 17.

Eto’o, of course, for all the issues that surround him, remains one of the best forwards in the world, while Alex Song offers a powerful presence at the back of the midfield. A back four of Geremi, Nicolas Nkoulou, Aurleien Chedjou and Henri Bedimo, though, looks rather better on paper than in the reality.

Like so many West African sides, Cameroon struggle for creativity, which amounts to Real Betis’ Achille Emana and not much else. Even in the glory days of a decade ago when they won back-to-back Cups of Nations, the focus was on power and discipline; these aren’t the glory days.

Interesting fact
Cameroon’s qualification may have been saved by the death of the long-time Gabon president Omar Bongo, which forced the postponement of their qualifier in Libreville. By the time the game was rearranged, Le Guen had arrived and Cameroon were rejuvenated.

The Coach: Paul Le Guen
Which is the true Le Guen: the one that led Lyon to three straight titles, or the one that subsequently struggled to achieve consistency with either Rangers or PSV? The infighting of Cameroon football politics may not be the best place to find out, and his overriding emotion after defeat in the Cup of Nations quarter-final seemed to be tiredness.

Key player: Samuel Eto’o
The Inter star – playing in his third World Cup – will be largely feeding on scraps, but Eto’o has the sharpness to make the most of what does fall to him.

Probable Team (4-1-2-3): Kameni; Geremi, Chedjou, Nkoulou, Bedimo; A Song; Mandjeck, Eyong; Emana, Eto’o, Idrissou

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the players
Q&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation

Japan, June 14, 3pm, Mangaung/Bloemfontein
June 19, 7.30pm, Tshwane/Pretoria
Holland, June 24, 7.30pm, Cape Town

Qualified 1st in Africa Group A
Togo (A) 0-1

Morocco (H) 0-0

Gabon (A) 2-0

Gabon (H) 2-1

Togo (H) 3-0

Morocco (A) 2-0

World Cup record
1982 1st Round
1990 Quarter-Final
1994 1st Round
1998 1st Round
2002 1st Round

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