By Mark Gleeson
(Reuters) – Cameroon’s image as World Cup gatecrashers, capable of taking down top contenders and wreaking havoc, has faded away after two decades of failure at the finals.
There will be limited expectations of the Indomitable Lions in Qatar, where they are in a tough group with Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland, after their failure to make any impact since their fabled exploits at Italia ’90.
That remains their high point as a charismatic side caught the world’s imagination with equal measures of trickery and aggression became the first Africans to reach the last eight.
Resplendent in their colourful green, red and yellow kit, they were ground breakers for the African game and still seen as a reference point for the continent.
Cameroon shirts might still be popular worldwide but it has been a long time since they have been worn with success at the World Cup.
They have been to five World Cup tournaments since 1990 but won only one of 15 games – an inconsequential victory over Saudi Arabia at the finals in Asia 20 years ago.
Their primary ambition in Qatar will be to try and get another win under their belts but it is going to be difficult for a side who sneaked into the tournament courtesy of a goal deep in stoppage time at the end of extra time in the second leg of their playoff tie away to Algeria in March.
It was only the second game in charge for Rigobert Song, their long-standing defender and captain who took over just weeks before the playoff.
The sacking of Portuguese coach Toni Conceicao, despite a third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations finals at the start of the year, was one of the first acts of newly-elected football federation president Samuel Eto’o.
Cameroon’s most successful player has not wasted any time putting his stamp on the team and will be as much a decision maker in team matters in Qatar as coach Song.
Eto’o has persuaded Brentford striker Bryan Mbuemo to join the team, along with a handful of other French-born footballers with Cameroonian roots, but whether it provides a significant boost to their fortunes remains to be seen.
Cameroon are Africa’s most frequent visitors to the World Cup, with seven previous tournament appearances, but this looks likely to be another exercise in frustration.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)