Haunted by past glory and failure, Indomitable Lions aim for the ‘impossible’ 0

Not many football pundits and fans picked Cameroon to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. The Indomitable Lions were pitted against perhaps Africa’s best team at the time – Algeria. However, as the Cameroonian saying goes, ‘L’impossible n’est pas Camerounais!’ (The impossible is not Cameroonian!)

A last-gasp goal deep in stoppage time by Cameroon’s Lyon striker, Karl Toko Ekambi shattered the North Africans’ hope leaving Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi inconsolable; Cameroon erupted for joy as they booked a flight to Qatar 2022. The match ended 1-2 in favour of Cameroon and 2-2 on aggregate, but the Lions qualified thanks to two away goals despite losing the first leg at home by a lone goal.

It is a new era for Cameroonian football, with former players taking administrative and coaching positions. Legend Samuel Eto’o recently became president of the football federation in December last year. At the same time, another national icon and former defensive stalwart, Rigobert Song, will lead the team as coach to the eighth World Cup appearance. Song replaced Toni Conceiçao in March, just before the World Cup playoff. Conceiçao had led the team to third place at AFCON earlier this year.

Cameroon will kick off their Qatar 2022 campaign when they take on Switzerland in their Group G opener at the Al Janoub Stadium on November 24. The 1990 quarter-finalists will also play Serbia at Al Janoub on November 28 and five-time champions Brazil at the Lusail Stadium on December 2.

The Indomitable Lions have failed to replicate the historic highs of the Roger Milla-led 1990 team that reached the quarter-finals amid impressive victories over Argentina and Colombia. They have also been to the 1982, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014 editions but have scaled past the group stages. Cameroon have won only one game at the World Cup since 1990, a 1-0 win against Saudi Arabia in 2002.

After missing out on Russia 2018, the pressure on the likes of Vincent Aboubakar, Toko Ekambi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, André Onana and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, to lead the team to glory is palpable, especially from Eto’o.

“During last week’s General Assembly, we came together to discuss the road ahead for Cameroonian football. We must seize every opportunity, nationally and internationally. We’ve made it to the World Cup, not to play extras but to dominate all 7 matches and bring home the trophy,” Eto’o posted on his Twitter handle back in August.

However, recent results mean Song has a lot on his plate if the team’s goal is to enter the world cup in the best form. They lost back-to-back friendlies in September. A shock 2-0 defeat to minnows Uzbekistan was followed by another 1-0 loss to South Korea.

The 46-year-old Song, Cameroon’s most-capped player, coached the under-23 team before his promotion. He had led the home-based team to a forgettable African Nations Championship in 2018. The latest defeats have not done much to quell several opinions about Song’s ability, but the former Liverpool man seems sure the team will not repeat past mistakes.

“The World Cups follow each other but are not the same. The past is the past,” Song told FIFA.

“Today, there is a new dynamic; there are new projects and leaders. I can tell you that we will not be subject to the same issues we faced in Brazil.”

With latest additions like former France under-21 international Bryan Mbeumo, who has switched allegiance to his father’s home country; the brilliant goalscoring form of Bayern Munich’s Choupo-Moting, and the constant presence of Aboubakar and Toko Ekambi, perhaps the famous phrase ‘L’impossible n’est pas Camerounais!’ may be an anchor for the Indomitable Lions after all.

Cameroon play Jamaica today in a friendly in Yaounde before a final warm-up against Panama on November 18.

Culled from The Peninsular