Cameroon at a crossroads

Before June 1, pessimism and negativity were the emotions associated with Cameroon’s World Cup campaign.

Changing manager halfway through qualifying; relying on an overturned result after Togo fielded an ineligible player to reach the knockout stage; a desperate lack of creativity in open play; their captain accusing his team of conspiring against him. It appeared the country who wowed the world in 1990 were continuing their descent into the malaise they had been suffering from for the past decade.

That was until a friendly against Germany on the first day of June. In a 2-2 draw with one of the world’s best teams, Cameroon used a game plan previously unseen under their coach Volker Finke. They sat back, broke up the game with a plethora of defensive midfielders, deflected any threat with their strong back line, and broke out using their pace on the wings. It really worked.

They had overcome the issue of a lack of a creative force in midfield, with the raw physical ability of the front three making up for it, and could rely on their defence – probably the most positive aspect of the team until this point – to soak up the pressure.

It was a step change. Having spent the past two years struggling to break down teams with no obvious strategy, and relying on some fortunate goals to win games, a plan suddenly appeared. It all made sense. Despite a tough group in Brazil, they could use this to their advantage, defusing their opponents’ attacking prowess and hitting them on the break.

Instead, Cameroon were lucky to lose only 1-0 to Mexico in their opening game, then were beaten 4-0 by Croatia after the dismissal of Alex Song – on zero points with zero goals, out of the tournament with one game to go, and with team-mates going at each other.

With hindsight, it seems ridiculous to have based such optimism on a friendly. It was even more ridiculous to be optimistic about a team who only worked out the best way to play weeks before the tournament began. But that is where Cameroonian football finds itself now – taking whatever solace it can from small victories (or in this case, a draw).

Where does the team go now? A positive would be that this pretty much signals the end of the era of Samuel Eto’o (pictured).

While opinions are divided about the veteran striker, that is likely to lift a massive weight from the shoulders of the team, and provide an opportunity to start again.

What's left? President Paul Biya has demanded an inquiry. Finke will presumably be sacked, and the poisoned chalice will be passed on to someone else with the task of awakening the Lions and making them indomitable once more.

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