Cameroon spi­rals up from ashes

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

CAMEROON foot­ball sup­port­ers were con­tem­plat­ing the un­think­able just two months ago – a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive World Cup without their na­tional team.

The coun­try that had qual­i­fied a record five times from Africa were bot­tom of Group A in the fi­nal elim­i­na­tion phase for South Africa 2010.

Min­nows Gabon had six points af­ter two rounds, shock 2006 qual­i­fiers Togo four and Morocco and Cameroon one each with the ‘In­domitable Lions’ last on goals scored.

A 1-0 away de­feat to Togo was bad enough, but be­ing held goal­less by se­rial poor trav­ellers Morocco be­fore 50 000 Cameroo­ni­ans in Yaounde was hard to stom­ach and vet­eran Ger­man coach Otto Pfis­ter quit soon af­ter.

En­ter Paul Le Guen, a 45-year-old for­mer France de­fender and coach of Lyon, who he guided to three con­sec­u­tive na­tional league ti­tles be­fore less happy spells at Rangers and Paris St Ger­main.

He knew his only chance of World Cup sal­va­tion for Cameroon lay in winning the re­main­ing four qual­i­fiers, and his team have cleared the first three ob­sta­cles eas­ily.

The last hur­dle is away to Morocco to­day in Fes, where a win will guar­an­tee Cameroon a place among the five African qual­i­fiers for the first World Cup staged in Africa.

A draw will suf­fice if sec­ond­placed Gabon fail to win away to Togo and the ‘Lions’ could even af­ford a loss if a sim­i­lar fate be­falls the un­pre­dictable Gabonese ‘Pan­thers’.

The only cer­tainty is a French­coached team will top the group as Gabon are led by Alain Giresse, a mem­ber of “le carre magic” (the magic square) mid­field that mes­merised Europe two decades ago.

Morocco need max­i­mum points to have any hope of mak­ing the 2010 African Na­tions Cup – the World Cup qual­i­fiers dou­ble as qual­i­fiers for the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment – so Cameroon face for­mi­da­ble foes.

But for mer star Cameroon striker, Pa­trick Mboma, has faith in Le Guen and thinks Cameroon will clinch a sixth World Cup ap­pear­ance af­ter be­ing in the 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002 tour­na­ments.

Cameroon reached the 1990 quar­ter-fi­nals in Italy and led Eng­land be­fore los­ing in ex­tra time to achieve a feat only one African coun­try – Sene­gal in 2002 – has matched.

“Paul is am­bi­tious and al­though it is a tough as­sign­ment, he has the tal­ent to do it.

“All the in­gre­di­ents are there be­cause Cameroon pos­sesses ex­cel­lent foot­ballers,” Mboma said.

Mboma knows the re­served, me­dia-shy and strict Le Guen well as they were team­mates at PSG dur­ing the 1990s when Mboma was among the most feared strik­ers in Africa.

The revo­lu­tion in­sti­gated by Le Guen three months ago in­cluded ax­ing long-serv­ing de­fender Rigobert Song and re­plac­ing him as skip­per with three-time African Foot­baller of the Year, Sa­muel Eto’o.

There was also a re­call for Spainbased striker Achille Webo, who re­warded Le Guen with two goals in his first match, a friendly win in Aus­tria that pre­ceded two World Cup vic­to­ries over Gabon and one against Togo.

Giresse, whose hopes of tak­ing Gabon to South Africa suf­fered a mas­sive blow when beaten home and away by Cameroon within four days last Septem­ber, was ini­tially scep­ti­cal whether Le Guen could adapt quickly enough.

CEL­E­BRA­TION: Kieran Gibbs of Eng­land with Theo Wal­cott in a UEFA U21 qual­i­fier.

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