After years of disarray, the Indomitable Lions are back on the world map, while the Elephants still need to convince their fans ahead of Brazil 2014
by Kingsley Kobo
Cameroon’s much-awaited revivalThe Indomitable Lions defeated Tunisia 4-1 in brilliant fashion during the second leg of their playoff, arousing all-night partying across the streets of the central African nation.
Jubilant supporters trooping out of the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde on Sunday could still recall how gloomy the atmosphere was at the same venue on October 8, 2005 when their team was held to a 1-1 draw by another north African side, Egypt in the 2006 World Cup qualifying final matchday, thus gifting Cote D’Ivoire the group’s sole ticket to Germany.
Boisterous football moments such as these have been uncommon of late in Cameroon, after the good old days of Roger Milla, the Biyik brothers and Patrick Mboma. Locals had witnessed how their once formidable Lions were tamed and caged up as other teams proceeded to successive Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2012 and 2013, with minnows Cape Verde among the sides that participated in the dismantling of the plucky Cameroonian team.
Samuel Eto’o and company did appear at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but their early exit lucidly unmasked signs of corrosion within the outfit characterised by tensions amongst players and with the coach.
The Indomitable Lions are back | Say it loud to other teams in Africa and beyondThree managers – Javier Clemente from Spain, Frenchman Denis Lavagne and Cameroonian Jean-Paul Akono – all tried to redress the situation but failed to put the Cameroonian house in order, as desired by the authorities and FA officials, who were also blamed by observers as part of the problem.
Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o
And now with an elusive World Cup ticket in hand, Finke should have carte blanche to clear up other prevailing issues as he prepares the team for their seventh World Cup, with a guarded focus on the country’s best ever performance in the competition - the 1990 edition where they lost in the quarter-final.
Eto’o, who has long dubbed the 2014 World Cup as his ultimate ‘serious international engagement’ needs not to be shown the ropes as a leader and captain upon whom millions of Cameroonians now hang their World Cup hopes. This is another daring chance for him to decide where to stand in the history of his country’s football.
The fear clouding Cote D’Ivoire’s qualificationCote D’Ivoire have qualified for their third World Cup in a row after edging obstinate Senegal on a 4-2 aggregate. But underneath the jubilation and ego to confirm their running status as the continent’s number one team on the Fifa rankings, there lies much apprehension.
And the most fretful are local fans, sports journalists and pundits. All calling for the removal of standing coach Sabri Lamouchi, whom they assume lacks the ‘depth of knowledge and proven experience’ required for a World Cup adventure.
The Elephants’ jittery showing against the Teranga Lions in Casablanca, Morocco on Saturday rekindled a waning animosity for the former Inter Milan midfielder, who is now Ivory Coast coach.
Chants from star-studded Cote D'Ivoire | Amid apprehensions of locals about style and coach
Honestly, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the tactical achievements of the French manager since his arrival in May 2012 at the helm of the Ivorian team. Many people have been unable to dissociate his personal contributions from efforts of the players. Though, the team did qualify and play at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, crashing out in the quarterfinals, as opposed to being finalists the previous year under Francois Zahoui. ‘Who is really doing the job, the coach or the players?’ That is the one big question for those in the country.
Cote D'Ivoire captain Drogba
What happens next? Will the FA succumb to pressure and part ways with the man who came to ‘learn the act of coaching in Cote D’Ivoire’? (in his own words), or spurn everyone and let him shepherd the team to Brazil? The consequences would be alarming though, should the Elephants fail.
And yet, time appears too short to import a new hand. Importantly, Lamouchi enjoys strong support from the top men of the group such as Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers and goalkeeper Copa Barry. A strong probability is that the FA will allow Lamouchi and his charges to continue quietly with preparations while the officials grapple with critics, assuring the nation that the men will deliver in Brazil.
Next year’s showpiece will likely be the swansong for the over-praised and underachieving golden generation, with close to half of the fold set to retire from international football. And after so many near misses in the past, Brazil 2014 seems unsuitable to expect silverware to crown their sterling collective efforts, but perhaps with one final push and less expectation upon their shoulders, the Elephants may surprise a few critics and this generation of stars could be ready to write a happy ending to their as yet disappointing story.