Cameroon have long been regarded as the standard-bearers for African football.
They were World Cup quarter-finalists in 1990 with a snake-hipped Roger Milla spearheading the attack. A decade later, they were the Olympic champions when a young Samuel Eto’o provided their inspiration.
Now, they are about to play in their seventh World Cup – a record for any side from the continent – but, in truth, the Indomitable Lions have failed to really live up to their billing for years. But that is all about to change though, according to legendary former defender Lauren.
I think we have a very strong team and can have a very good World Cup, I really do
The right-back was a key part of Cameroon’s last great side, which won the 2000 and 2002 Africa Cup of Nations as well as claiming the Olympic gold. The former Arsenal man sees similarities between the current Cameroon side and the one he played in.
“I think we have a very strong team and can have a very good World Cup, I really do,” Lauren told Al Jazeera with conviction. “This is the first team after my time that really looks the real deal. There are real leaders there – at the back, you have Marseille’s Nicolas Nkoulou, who I really like. He reads the game well and is able to build attacks from the back, which is important.
“Then in midfield, you have Stephane Mbia, who is so experienced and classy. And up front we have Samuel Eto’o. What more can I say about Samuel.”
The Eto'o factor
Eto’o’s international teammates have certainly had some things to say about him in recent years, as he caused disharmony in the camp. Last year, the striker informed teammates he was retiring from international football, only to be talked out of the decision by Cameroon’s president.
“I’ve known Eto’o since he was a youngster and I have no doubt that he will give his best in Brazil,” insists Lauren, who won 25 caps for his country during an international career spanning from 1997 to 2002. “He’s had a decent season with Chelsea and he knows this will be his last World Cup. He will give his 100 percent. I have a very good feeling about the team. My only doubt is about the goal-keeper, because I’m not really convinced by Charles Itandje or the other keepers we’re taking (Loic Feudjou and Sammy Ndjock).”
The Indomitable Lions certainly weren’t dealt any favours when the World Cup draw was made in December last year. They were put in a group with the hosts and favourites, Brazil, as well as Croatia and Mexico, who both have strong, experienced sides.
“It’s a tough group but I think Cameroon will make it through. Brazil will be in first place, I’m sure of that, and it will then be a battle for second between the other three teams. The game between Cameroon and Croatia (on June 18) is likely to be crucial and I think Cameroon will win it.”
That would certainly be a transformation from Cameroon’s nadir, in October 2012, when they were lost a two-legged qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations to the tiny Cape Verde Islands. Since then, they have experienced a revival under German coach Volker Finke and drew 2-2 against heavyweights Germany in Monchengladbach at the weekend, with Eto’o and Maxim Choupo-Moting getting the goals.
The task ahead
If Cameroon do get through the group, it would be the only time they have reached the knock-out stages of a World Cup other than that heady summer of 1990.
As Lauren knows only too well, the team have often been let down by poor preparation though.
“I remember when we went to the World Cup in 2002, we only arrived in Japan a few days before our first match. That just wasn’t right. You need 15 days to get used to the time difference, to the food, to the climate, and we only had a couple. I was used to excellent preparation with Arsenal, and Seville and Mallorca before that, and that was disappointing.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a talented squad went out in the group stages, a result Cameroon will hope to avoid this time in Brazil.