TOKYO (Reuters) – It wasn’t « bienvenue », it was « bon soir », when Mayor Yasumu Sakamoto finally got to welcome the Cameroon World Cup squad to his Japanese village of Nakatsue.
Cameroon’s « Indomitable Lions » got off their bus in the tiny, remote village, five days after the African champions had been expected to arrive at their training camp for the May 31-June 30 soccer tournament.
« A new morning has come, but ‘bon soir, konban wa, (good evening), » Sakamoto said, beaming broadly as he trotted out the French and Japanese greetings for a clearly sleepy Cameroon team.
« I’m not dreaming, the Indomitable Lions have really arrived at our Nakatsue sports centre, » the diminutive Sakamoto said before shaking hands with some of the tall, lanky players.
About 200 of Nakatsue’s 1,370 villagers turned out despite the hour to greet the team, waving Cameroon’s green, red and yellow flag. « They shook my hand, I was so happy, » said one elderly Japanese woman wearing a cap in the Cameroon colours.
The squad had been expected to arrive in Japan on Sunday but their charter flight from Paris was cancelled after a row over bonuses.
Their trip was further complicated when they were stranded for nine hours in Bombay while awaiting permission to fly over Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
As a result of their marathon journey, they missed a practice match against a select high school team from nearby Oita ahead of their friendly against England in Kobe on Sunday.
Japanese fans have a soft spot for the Cameroon squad ever since striker Patrick Mboma once played for J-League side Gamba Osaka.
Mboma, on loan from Italian club Parma to English premier league side Sunderland, has been struggling with injury and is still a question mark for the World Cup.
Cameroon are drawn in group E along with Germany, Saudi Arabia and Ireland.