Cameroon have finally made it to their sixth World Cup since 1982. Goal.com's Massaër Ndiaye provides us with a little local perspective on their progression...The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are going to be at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next summer. After a very bad start, the Cameroonians managed to beat Morocco in Fez this Saturday and are now on their way to their sixth World Cup, meaning that they have qualified more times than any other African team.
There was an unpromising beginning to this campaign for the Lions, who were torn from the inside with quarrels and difficulties communicating. They lost their very first game in a humiliating match against Togo. To top things off, Morocco drew with Otto Pfister's side, leading to the exit of the German coach.
The veteran boss, who has overseen no less than eight African teams since 1972, confessed his inability to find a system in which he could pair Samuel Eto'o with another player effectively. His quest remained unfinished as he and FECAFOOT (the Cameroonian FA) decided that the situation was not healthy.
A brief period in which a slew of local legends, led by all-time African great Thomas Nkono, managed the squad through friendlies followed as a successor to Pfister was selected.
Then came the turning point of the campaign. At first glance, Omar Bongo Ondimba's passing had little to do with football. However, as soon as the long-time President of Gabon died, FEGAFOOT (the Gabonese FA) sent a request to both Cameroon and FIFA asking for the game to be postponed as their country was mourning.
That was the point at which Gabon lost their ticket to the big show. At that moment, with six points and bossing the group (Togo had three points, Morocco and Cameroon both only one point), Gabon would have beaten a disorganised and unmotivated Cameroon team in Libreville. Instead they gave the Indomitable Lions three months to regroup and settle down, clearing their minds to win their four remaining matches.
Once Paul Le Guen was selected as the new trainer, the campaign picked up positive momentum. The first thing the French manager did was give the armband to the face of the team, Samuel Eto'o, and make him much more involved in making sure his team-mates were motivated and focused on and off the pitch.
The former Lyon coach directed his rejuvenation process towards the defence, keeping Rigobert Song in the squad and giving him more of a mentor role, thus keeping an entire nation happy and Song's pride intact.
In the autumn, the Cameroonians did what they do best when they're confident: they crushed the Gabonese team twice in four days and took first spot from their neighbours. They never let it go.
With two matches left, Cameroon kept their motivation and focus intact and took advantage of their opponents' troubles - Togo switched coaches three times during the joint qualifiers while internal Moroccan problems kept the Lions of Atlas from aligning the best team possible on Saturday.
Now that they are qualified, the Indomitable Lions have two objectives for next year. After getting to the final of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana, the Lions lost to a better organised Egyptian side and an opportunistic Mohamed Zidan. Cameroon have already declared their objectives loud and clear for next year's tournament: leaving Luanda with the African crown.
If Cote d'Ivoire are seen as the favourites because of their star-studded squad and flashy style of play, the Cameroonians are going to be just as effective, if not more so than the Elephants.
This is set to be the last great campaign before the team explodes and incorporates new players - some players such as Song, Geremi Njitap are well into their 30s and won't realistically make it to Brazil 2014.
But right now, this is time for celebration. It has been a long time since the Cameroonian cities have erupted the way they did on Saturday night, testament to the struggle it has been to qualify.
Coach Paul Le Guen is now known as the latest 'White Sorcerer'. Even if he hasn't signed a contract as of yet (FECAFOOT wanted a step-by-step approach to the whole deal and only signed him for four games), it seems that he will get his wish and get a contract that will run until the World Cup, unlike Ivorian counterpart Vahid Halilhodzic, whose fate is tied to the Elephants winning the Angola tournament.
Samuel Eto'o, as a captain and leader, has been exemplary. He will now have to be as decisive as he's been countless times already for his country, but never at a continental level. Unfortunately for him, he was not the leader of the team in 2002 and in 2008 - he was injured for the last match and wasn't his usual self. He'll be a player to watch this January.
But let's not get carried away, let's cruise with the Lions as they are once again on their way to another World Cup, hoping to replicate their 1990 performances and at least equal what Senegal managed to do in 2002.
Massaër Ndiaye, Goal.com