There’s no denying it, the greatest player Cameroon has ever produced is aging. His Chelsea coach José Mourinho made an off-hand joke about his striker back in February: “He is 32 years old, maybe 35, who knows?” Eto’o has since turned 33 -- or 36, whatever. But he has still has that ability to pounce on that one half-chance with a swift strike, the bread and butter of a long career. So to Cameroon, for whom he debuted at 15 (or 18), he remains indispensable.
Action Images / ReutersSUHAIB SALEM
Cameroon announced its arrival on the world stage by registering three draws in its debut back in 1982. Roger Milla featured prominently in those efforts and stuck around eight years later to guide the Indomitable Lions to a surprising quarterfinal berth in Italy eight years later. Milla scored again in his third World Cup appearance at the age of 42, but his side crashed out at the first hurdle in the United States nevertheless. A new generation assumed the mantle without replicating the success as Cameroon failed to progress in 1998, 2002 and 2010.
German head coach Volker Finke is famous for forging technically astute and high-pressing sides, inducing a tactical revolution in German soccer with Freiburg. The task, this time around, is very different, because the talent at hand is very different. Essentially, this Cameroonian side is made up of bruisers and poachers. Midfielders Jean II Makoun, Eyong Enoh, Joel Matip, Stéphane Mbia and Alex Song aren’t made of flesh so much as they were carved from granite. But none of them are terribly useful on the ball. So while this team will likely be sound defensively, the real question is who will supply Eto’o with a steady diet of chances up front. Or even a few scraps to feed off.
Action Images / ReutersTHOMAS BOHLEN
How they got here
The African qualifying draw threw Cameroon into a perilous Group I assignment with Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Togo. Everything proceeded according to the usual pattern -- win at home, lose on the road -- until the Togolese succumbed to administrative errors in June to turn a 2-0 defeat in Lome into a 3-0 forfeit. The extra points ensured that a final day victory over Libya booked a playoff place. A scoreless draw in Tunisia set the stage for Cameroon to qualify with an impressive 4-1 victory in Yaounde last month.
Difficult. While certainly not lumped in with the toughest bunch in Group A, this simply isn’t a very good Cameroon team. And so Brazil, Croatia and Mexico is probably a slate of assignments that’ll stump them.
Round of 16 prospects
Bleak. If Cameroon go on some kind of an unexpected run and advance from the group stage, they’ll have to face off with a team from Group B, perhaps the tournament’s toughest -- in all likelihood Spain, Chile or the Netherlands.
Getty ImagesMichael Steele
Finke's outfit remains a side best suited to soak up pressure and strike quickly on the counter. The fine defensive record during qualifying offers hope for the group stage assignment, but this pedestrian unit might buckle when placed under more severe scrutiny. The dearth of creativity in midfield heaps pressure on Eto'o and Pierre Webó to convert the few chances conjured during the course of a match. If the Cameroonians can counter precisely, then they could catch a team or two by surprise. Otherwise, it looks like three matches and out for the Cameroonian faithful