SHIZUOKA, Japan – It’s all or nothing for Cameroon as they prepare to face three-times world champions Germany here on Tuesday, while their opponents are also walking a World Cup tightrope.
Both countries with widely-differing World Cup pedigrees have everything to play for going into the final Group E encounter having both taken four points from their opening two matches.
Germany, who expect leading scorer Miroslav Klose to be over a knee problem for the encounter, appear at first sight to hold the trump cards of experience and a healthy goal difference following the 8-0 walloping they handed Saudi Arabia, who restricted African and Olympic champions Cameroon to a single goal.
But Cameroon can wipe out that advantage with a win by any margin.
And they could hardly have a more motivated coach in Winfried Schafer, who says he has the big heart of an Indomitable Lion, but who hails from … Germany.
Both sides could have played for a draw had Ireland not thrown a spoke in the wheel with Robbie Keane’s last-ditch equaliser against Germany last week.
With Ireland also having drawn against Cameroon they now are all set for three more points against the already eliminated Saudis – and an Irish win by more than one goal would eliminate the Africans on goal difference if the latter only draw their match.
After their exploits against the Saudis, goal difference is the last of Germany’s problems.
German Football Federation (DFB) president Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder insisted Monday that coach Rudi Voller’s job is safe even if the team are eliminated Tuesday – but the mere mention of the issue speaks volumes in itself.
Voller said he was allowing a new generation to bed down after flops in 1994 and 1998 – as well as at Euro 2000.
« In Germany we have put into place a scouting network to uncover young talent based on the French model – but we can’t criticise the system a few weeks after setting it up, » he insisted.
The Germans have often thrived on internal discord – but this time what discord there is is external – with former coach Franz Beckenbauer saying the squad lacks a leader.
Skipper Oliver Kahn says that is nonsense and insisted Sunday that « the prima donnas’ era is over. Today we have a real team spirit. I can guarantee you we will not make ourselves look ridiculous against Cameroon on Tuesday, » he vowed.
Voller is equally confident, telling reporters: « I am absolutely convinced we will win even if they have very powerful and quick players. »
Schafer is convinced otherwise.
« Now I am an Indomitable Lion and must beat Germany. That’s all that counts. I’m not interested in the fact it’s Rudi (and Germany) on the other coach’s bench. »
Cameroon defender Rigobert Song says it’s down to Schafer that the Africans are now as disciplined as their rivals traditionally have been.
« Winfried Schafer has made a team out of us, » said Song, who says that in porevious tournaments « all 11 players on the pitch just ran around all wanting only one thing: The ball. Today it’s different with Winfried. »
Schafer upped the ante ahead of the match by blasting the Germans for trying to train when his own team wanted to, flouting a FIFA rule which says the Africans, as technically the « home » team, were allowed to set the schedule and make the Germans fit their plans around it.
Cameroon, who in 1990 became the only African side ever to reach the quarter-finals, are not only up against teutonic resolve.
They are also up against history as the Germans have not failed to reach the second phase since 1938.