Cameroon’s soccer-playing lions are not as tame as they were 30 years ago. What can the Swiss team expect in the first group match on November 24?
Cameroonian players from big leagues and big clubs have been few and far between for years. The main exception is Eric Maxim Choupo-Motting. At 33, the striker has emerged as a goal-scoring star at Bayern Munich this autumn despite tough competition. Also worth noting are Serie A leaders Napoli midfielder Andre-Frank Sambo Anguiza, Olympique Lyonnais winger Karl Toko Ekambi, Inter Milan number one goalie Andre Onana and Brentford winger Brian Mbuemo. Two attacking players in the 26-man squad have close links to the Young Boys: Nicolas Moumi Ngamalou, who will join Dynamo Moscow this season, and two-time Super League top scorer Jean-Pierre N’zam, who has returned from Venezia.
Unsuccessful since 2002
But will it be enough for Cameroon to overcome two teams from the Brazil/Switzerland/Serbia trio in the group stage? Reaching the round of 16 is of historic significance. Cameroon has won the Africa Cup of Nations (the African equivalent of the European Championship) five times, most recently in 2017 in Gabon. But at the highest level, the World Championships, the last time the team came close to progressing in a group was 20 years ago. In the 2002 World Cup held in Japan, Cameron drew against Ireland. Later they beat a one-sided Saudi Arabia 1-0. A win against Germany in the final group game would have advanced the team coached by Winfried “Winnie” Schaefer. It was 0-0 until the second half, but eventually 0-2.
Samuel Eto’o, the world-class Cameroonian striker, was 21 at the time and still far from the peak of his career. But even if eighty were the best trumps, that would never be enough. For the 2006 World Cup, Cameroon was stuck in the African qualifying round in Ivory Coast, and the team exited the 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments without a single point in the group stage. Cameroon once again failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
So you have to go back a good 30 years to find Cameron’s heyday. In those days they were actually “unruly lions,” as they are often referred to today with little nostalgic glorification.
On June 8, 1990, in the opening match of the World Cup in Italy, she pulled off the ultimate coup. They beat defending champions Argentina 1-0 in front of 73,000 spectators at Milan’s San Siro. It was one of the greatest emotions in World Cup history. It was also the birth of legends: goalkeeper Thomas N’Cono, goalscorer Francois Omme-Biyick and then 38-year-old Roger Milla are examples. Central defender Rigobert Song was among them, but he was injured during the 1990 World Cup.
Group winners Cameroon eliminated Colombia 2-1 after extra time in the Round of 16. As ever, veteran substitute Milla scored both goals within two minutes. Cameroon became the first African team to reach the last eight of a World Cup. England also came close to defeat in the quarter-finals. Gary Lineker equalized only after a foul penalty after 83 minutes. Another foul penalty decided it all for the Liners in overtime.
Today, two legends hold the most prominent positions in the Indomitable Lions Association. Samuel Eto’o is the president and Rigobert Song is the national coach.
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