With the Eto’o straight jacket removed, Cameroon are free to roam free
Cameroon are now capable of dominating their opposition and winning
For those arriving on the scene of African football after 2010, you would have forgiven for completely forgetting about Cameroon.
Barely making a scratch on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, two successive failures to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 and 2013 saw the Indomitable Lions exiled to the wilderness; a pride prowling around footballing limbo looking for their route back to the big time.
And whilst their 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil was little more than a stain on the summer, a raft of changes means that Cameroon are back, and they are ready to roar.
As Volker Finke stood in the rain in Manaus, watching his side limp to a 1-0 loss in their first game of the World Cup against Mexico, he must have wondered what he was doing.
A team lacking any sort of obvious flow or unity, it would only get worse for Finke, as in-fighting and a bizarre sending off from Alex Song made the scoreline in the 4-0 loss to Croatia the least worrying thing. A 4-1 loss to the hosts followed, and Cameroon went home, knocked out of Group A and securing their last place finishing position.
What a difference six months make. With the start of AFCON 2015 just round the corner, the Indomitable Lions are like a new side, after an absolutely fantastic qualifying campaign. They are scoring goals whilst not conceding goals, as they came through a tough group containing Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Sierra Leone to arrive in Equatorial Guinea having barely broken sweat.
Looking like a new side, this is largely because they are a new side.
Manager Volker Finke, managing to keep his job after Brazil 2014, has taken his mixing spoon, put it in the bowl of players eligible to play for Cameroon, and given it a good swirl around.
Sieving out those perceived to be bad for team unity, he has added-in players who are motivated and want to play for their country, creating a young, progressive team whose performances are greater than the sum of their parts. In the bin marked “OUT” sit former-captain Samuel Eto'o, in-form midfielder Alex Song – yet to play since his extraordinary elbow on Mario Manduzukic – and full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, in a revamp that contains just nine of the 23 players that went to Brazil.
Finke has forged an excellent team via a combination of new faces and new roles for the surviving players. Lyon forward Clinton N'Jie and Barcelona B goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa have added a youthful flourish to the squad, whilst Stephane Mbia takes over from Eto'o as captain, with Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Choupo-Moting sharing the responsibility of vice-captain, in order to foster responsibility for the future of the national team amongst the players he seems to believe will work optimally for the team.
One of the few sides at the tournament that flow as a unit, Cameroon are now capable of dominating their opposition and winning, rather than relying on the fast-break counter attack. Scoring nine goals and conceding just one in the six qualifying games, the highlight came when they dispatched traditional giants Ivory Coast 4-1 in Yaounde, as they ran riot against an admittedly shaky Elephants defence.
The main fear you have for the Indomitable Lions is how the new breed cope with the pressures of tournament football. The majority of the elder statesman in the side have been shown the door, which, whilst yields considerable benefit in terms of squad harmony, does risk a lack of core players who have been there and done it. Cameroon's failure to qualify for the past two AFCONs mean they don't have the same youth-and-experience advantage that a team like Ghana possesses, which may see them crumble when the going gets tough.
Not on the right side of a particularly easy draw, with Mali, Guinea and the familiar face of Ivory Coast in their group, they are still expected by many to finish top and advance. Whilst the defensive stylings of Mali should provide an awkward test, the defensive lapses of Guinea and Ivory Coast should be something Cameroon are able to take advantage of, as indeed they did during qualifying.
Facing one of the advancers from the Group of Death, quite how far Cameroon can go after that remains to be seen, and will go down as a true test of this side's character should they reach the latter stages.
A couple of years away from AFCON and a slightly inexperienced squad may mean that reaching the final may be beyond them, but in the very least should be seen as a learning experienced for a side back at the top of their game. Watch out Africa.
- Equatorial Guinea to host 2015 African Cup
- Egypt out of African Cup for third time after losing to Senegal
- Egypt among 4 candidates to host 2017 African Cup
- Report: Algeria call up Kashi as Abeid’s replacement for African Cup
- 2015 African Cup of Nations: All eyes on Ghana?
- All players, visitors for African Cup to be tested for Ebola
- Without Drogba and Eto’o, African Cup ready for new stars