The Indomitable Lions of Cameroun are clearly Africa’s team of the moment. Voted Africa’s Team of the Century by Confederation of African Football (CAF), the Lions are seeking to redeem their image after their disappointing first round elimination at the 1998 edition of the mundial.
The 1998 outing notwithstanding, the Lions have a modest World Cup record. Though they have never won it, they were the first African team to make it to the quarter final of the World Cup following a spectacular performance at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. One thing about the Indomitable Lions that confounds their opponents and indeed soccer teams around the world is their ability to combine the most aggressive physical play with enchanting skilful displays.
At the 1982 World Cup in Spain where they made their first World Cup appearance, the Indomitable Lions showed that they could hold their own against more experienced World Cup teams. Though they did not go beyond the first round in that mundial, they certainly were not disgraced as they drew all three matches they played, including the highly explosive match against eventual winners, Italy.
Besides commendable performances at the World Cup, Cameroun has dominated the African football scene more than any other team in the last two decades. During the period, they have won the African Cup of Nations four times, the last time being the recently concluded edition of the championship in Mali. Before the Mali 2002 Nations Cup, the Indomitable Lions had faced a crisis which had necessitated the sacking of the national team coach and the employment of mercurial German coach, Winfried Schafer.
With this development, Cameroun’s chances of defending the Nations Cup trophy they won in 2000 in Lagos after beating host, Nigeria via penalty shoot-out were thought to be very slim indeed. Not that Cameroun lacked the talent, the question was whether the players would be able to rise above the crisis and deliver the goods on the field. Added to this worry was the anxiety over Cameroun’s previous Nations Cup outings which coincided with the World Cup. It was a matter for serious concern given the fact that the Indomitable Lions had never performed well at the Nations Cup any year they were playing in the World Cup.
It was this emotional trauma the players carried to Mali. In Mali, however, the Lions roared. For 450 minutes, the Indomitable Lions played without conceding a goal until the penalty shoot-out in the final match against Senegal where they won the trophy by beating the Senegalese. The Nations Cup victory was indeed a befitting end to a spectacular performance by the Lions. In the few weeks he had been in charge, Schafer was able to bring out the best in the players often known to vacillate between brilliant attacking football and sheer brutality. The combination upfront of the 2000 African Footballer of the Year, Patrick Mboma and Real Mallorca striker, Samuel Eto’o Fils worked like magic as the two players evinced some sort of telepathic understanding them that confounded opposing defenders.
Though Schafer is yet to name his team for the World Cup, he will invariably be relying on the same crop of players that won the Nations Cup trophy. The provisional 29-man list released last week attests to this. The German coach will be banking on Mboma to lead the Cameroun attack with the skilful Eto’o Fils providing support. This will, however, depend on Mboma’s fitness as the player currently on loan to Sunderland in the English premiership has been dogged by injury since the Nations Cup in Mali. If Mboma fails to make the trip, Schafer may draft in diminutive striker, Pius Ndiefi. The Sedan of France striker delighted football fans with his dazzling display in Mali. His combination with midfielder, Salomon Olembe, ended the dreams of youthful hosts Mali at the Nations Cup. Another option for Schafer is Patrick Suffo who scored the second goal in Cameroun’s 2-2 draw against Argentina last month in Switzerland.
It is in the midfield, however, that the Lions are truly blessed. The key figure in this department is Lion’s Mac-Vivien Foe, an imposing player with the strength of an ox, Foe possesses a blistering pace and a thunderous shot to boot.
His aerial prowess is an asset he has used with telling effect on numerous occasions. Foe will be supported by a cast that includes nimble-footed Olembe Olembe, Arsenal star, Lauren Etame Mayer, Bill Tchato of Montpellier, Joel Epalle and Real Madrid star, Geremi Njitap.
The midfield noted for its resilience is expected to take the pressure off the defence where Captain Rigobert Song holds sway. Drawn in a group which includes tough teams like Germany and Ireland, the Lions’ defence definitely has its hands full. With the young and feline Alioum Boukar manning the posts, Schafer will hopefully be spared much anxiety. Above everything else, the German will count on the discipline and unity in the team to see them through to the next stage of the competition.
« Since the Nations Cup, we have been used to living as a group. There is a lot of discipline in the team, a very good mentality, » he said.
If Cameroun can reduce their aggressive play which has cost then dearly in the past, they may just achieve their objective.