Cameroon rejuvenated

CameroonFORMER greats Cameroon seem to be regrouping after several poor years and hope to impress at the Africa Cup of Nations with a new-look young team.

Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions have historically been accustomed to life at the top.

They have won the Africa Cup of Nations four times between 1984 and 2002, and generated national and continental pride when they became the first African team to reach the quarterfinal of a World Cup 1990 in Italy with the likes of Roger Milla.

But the past years have been hard for Cameroon.

The team crashed out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in the first round, and also lost all three games last year in Brazil. In-between Cameroon also failed to qualify for the last two Africa Cups.

Lack of discipline and quarrels over bonuses were frequently cited as reasons for the Lions’ fall but the Brazilian debacle seemed to have brought with it some lessons.

President Paul Biya instructed the country’s prime minister to investigate the reasons why the country performed so poorly.

Results of that investigation have never been made public, but the turn of events tends to suggest what might have happened.

First, Lions coach Volker Finke of Germany, whom many people believed would be sacked, was maintained. Instead, the players Finke thought let him down had to go.

Samuel Eto’o, one of the world’s deadliest strikers at the time, retired from international football after being stripped of the captaincy. Alex Song was suspended and then omitted. Benoit Assou-Ekotto simply hasn’t been picked.

Even without these men, Cameroon have gone through a stunning transformation, even though the German tactician preached caution.

“We are building a new team,” he said before the autumn qualifiers. “If we qualify for the Afcon, it will be a big surprise, but I think people should be patient.

“We are not just building a team for the present, we are looking at the future as well; to see how we can build a sustainable squad.”

“If you never start with young players, then you will never have good players.”

Saying it was necessary to change the spirit of the team and the mentality of the players, Finke opted for largely young and untested players.

The youngsters have so far made a great impression, coming out of the qualifiers unbeaten, scoring nine goals and letting in just one in six games. Results included a 4-1 demolition of mighty Ivory Coast in Yaounde, and a draw against the same team in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast are the opponents again in Group D at the January 17-February 8 finals in Equatorial Guinea, along with Mali and Guinea, and Finke has again warned not to expect miracles.

“All these teams have their eye on the trophy,” he told reporters in Yaounde. “We will take each match at a time, but the most important thing for us is to qualify for the second round.”

Finke will be counting on youngsters like Olympique Lyon’s Clinton Mua Njie and Vincent Aboubakar of Porto, the two men who scored a combined seven goals in the qualifiers.

In-form Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting of Schalke has proven to be the team’s playmaker and can’t wait for the first game on January 20 against Mali.

“I am excited about the prospects of playing in the Afcon,” he said.

With team captain Stephane Mbia Etoundi from Europa League winners Sevilla and experienced Olympique Marseille defender Nicolas Nkou’lou gradually recovering from injuries, Cameroon may prove to be a hard side to beat in Equatorial Guinea.

Sapa-DPA

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