For football fans of a certain age the capitulation of Cameroon in Brazil leading to their exit from the World Cup was heartbreaking to watch. The added farce of Barcelona midfielder Alex Song’s red card for elbowing and an Assou-Ekotto head-butt just added to the misery. Once again the Indomitable Lions have looked anything but, with only their third and final group game against Brazil as a chance to redeem another woeful World Cup campaign.
Although Cameroon did qualify for the 1982 World Cup it was Italia 90 where they came to the attention of the wider footballing world. With their distinctive and iconic kit and talismanic striker Roger Milla they soon became everyone’s second favourite team after beating Argentina in their opening group match – finishing the game with nine men due to some uncompromising tackling including a very memorable group attack on Claudio Caniggia. Milla scored both goals in their next game – a 2-1 victory against Romania – before they were thrashed 4-0 by the Soviet Union. But by that time they were already through. The second round saw them up against Colombia (who had their very own talisman in the form of the wonderful Carlos Valderrama). With no score after 90 minutes Roger Milla once again scored two in extra time with Colombia only managing one in reply. England were the opponents in the quarter finals and with seven minutes left a disputed Gary Lineker penalty broke African hearts, sending the game into extra time where another Lineker penalty knocked Cameroon out.
Cameroon have actually somehow managed to qualify for five of the last six World Cups but have only won one solitary match in 14 attempts. And that was against the minnows of Saudi Arabia at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea where the then 21-year-old Samuel Eto’o got the winner. As unimpressive as Brazil has been so far very few expect the outcome of their last remaining group match this time round to be anything but a victory for the home side.
All countries go through their lean periods but what is noticeable in Cameroon’s case is that they have almost always qualified for the finals before falling apart once they have got to the big stage. And this has been through a period where many of the African nations have improved markedly so it’s not as if they are just the best of a weak confederation. Many of Cameroon’s problems seem to have been more off the pitch than on. The President of the Cameroon Football Association (Fecafoot) was jailed for fraud and the star players have had fallings out that has affected the side with self-imposed exiles.
Cameroon have not won the African Cup of Nations since 2002 and failed to qualify entirely for the last two editions. There have been signs of hope however with the improved form of players such as Vincent Aboubakar. But the signs before the World Cup started did not look good with a heavy defeat at the hands of Portugal and only a 1-0 victory against Moldova in their last friendly. Fears for the team have unfortunately been borne out by Cameroon’s woeful performance in Brazil.
Even if Cameroon somehow pick themselves up and get a result against Brazil in next week’s match, this World Cup will go down as another failure in a long line of disappointments. The memories of Roger Milla’s hip-swivelling dance at the corner flag in Italy are fading and at the moment it feels like it will be a long time before the Lions of Cameroon will be Indomitable again.
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