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Cameroon Fall from Glory

Anne Mireille Nzouankeu / Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Charting Cameroon’s fall from glory.

Associated Features: Où est le Cameroun(French Translation)

On the evening of June 19, 2010, Cameroon, already defeated by Japan, lost against Denmark. This second defeat immediately relegated the country to the bottom of the group ahead of the encounter with Holland, then leader of group E with two wins. Cameroon was thus out of the World Cup before the last round of games. On Thursday, Cameroon were beaten by the Dutch, leaving them with no points at the bottom of Group E.

In six World Cup appearances, the Indomitable Lions were knocked out in the first round five times, their only good performance being in 1990.

What's more, the Indomitable Lions agonisingly qualified for the 2010 World Cup, despite being drawn in a seemingly easy group with Togo, Gabon and Morocco. Gabon, a Lilliputian as far as soccer is concerned, managed to bring down the 'mighty' Cameroonian giants with a 1-0 blow, during the 2010 African Cup of Nations, which the Lions exited at the quarter-final stage.

This feeble performance, according to soccer experts, comes from bad management of the Cameroonian national team. “A team is not just the players on the pitch; it is a general management policy. You need to define your goals and aims,” explains Joseph Antoine Bell, former Indomitable Lion and now prominent sports analyst. According to him, Cameroonian sports authorities did not take concrete measures to raise the level of the game. He adds that following performances like the defeat against Gabon, “It should come as no surprise that you don't win any games in the World Cup, where there is no Togo and no Gabon”.

As a man whose analyses hold great weight in footballing circles, Joseph Antoine Bell contends that all these clues should have alerted football officials in Cameroon. “No one had the courage to say that qualifying from such a group was far from being a miracle and, if it were one, this simply means that a dismal failure was certainly around the corner at the World Cup,” he says.

The Indomitable Lions' participation in the 2010 soccer World Cup was undermined by rumours of internal leadership squabbles. Samuel Eto'o, the team's current captain, has been accused of trying to sideline all who contested his leadership, like midfielder Achille Emana. He was also suspected of influencing Paul Le Guen's choices for the starting eleven. Newspapers have reported a split within the squad, with a group aligning behind Inter Milan's Eto'o and another rallying around Betis Sevilla's Achille Emana.

Players have been busier fighting than focusing on strategies to win games. This antagonism might have been behind some of the incongruities visible on the pitch. Some players prefer to go the individual route by shooting from unreasonable ranges, despite having team mates in better scoring positions.

Tensions were so high at times that, on June 18h, Michel Zoah, Cameroon's Minister of Sports, had to convene an emergency meeting in Durban. Following the meeting, Linus Pascal Fouda, spokesperson for the Lions, stated that there were no “problems as reported”. He rather mentioned “misunderstandings” among the players.

However, Joseph Antoine Bell believes that it is a leadership crisis stemming from the lack of management in the team. “Internal squabbles are the consequences of a lack of rigour. There are never internal quarrels in winning or competent teams; there are never internal quarrels with the champions. Internal quibbles are for those who won't make it through. It is all a matter of rigorous and competent management”.

For the game against Japan, Paul Le Guen, the French manager of the Indomitable Lions, is believed to have made some tactical blunders like fielding an experimental team in a critical World Cup game. For example, he played Samuel Eto'o on the right of Cameroon's attack; a position he never occupied in the national team during official games. The coach seemingly relied on José Mourinho's tactical dispositions, the Inter Milan manager, where Eto'o plays his professional football.

However, it is almost common knowledge that Eto'o owes his good performances on the right mainly to team mates like Diego Milito, Inter Milan's centre forward. He has been blatantly inefficient from that position in the national squad. Yet, it is only at the 80th minute of the game against Japan that Le Guen, waking up to his mistake, decided to move Eto'o to the centre of the attack. This is where he has always played with the Indomitable Lions. Analysts believe that another mistake was to bring in Emana as late as the 63rd minute and Geremi Njitap at the 75th, or keeping midfielder Alexandre Song on the bench. These mistakes are believed to have contributed towards the defeat against Japan.

As Ghana is so far the only African country through to the second round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Cameroon, suffering from bad management, desperately clings onto the fading memory of a distant success: “When you are complacent, you end up getting what we got. This means that at some point in time, the game catches up with you and it is remorseless,” Joseph Antoine Bell concludes.

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