Cameroon exited the World Cup on Wednesday in the same turbulent way they arrived with a glum future ahead for the African country that once held the footballing world’s imagination.
A violently petulant display is nothing new from Cameroon but reached a new low when Benoit Assou Ekotto head-butted team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo towards the end of the 4-0 capitulation to Croatia in Manaus that condemned the Indomitable Lions to an early departure from the tournament.
Coach Volker Finke labelled his team’s performance against Croatia “disgraceful” after Barcelona midfielder Alexandre Song was sent off five minutes before the break for an elbow on Mario Mandzukic.
“Some players behaved very badly, and that’s why we have conceded four goals,” Finke told the French football magazine to L’Equipe. “I know that it is difficult to play with ten men, but that is not a reason to lose it to this point. The game was balanced until the red card.
“The Croatians were more clinical in front of goal, but Cameroon also had chances to score. The behaviour of some of the players is really not satisfactory. Even when we were 11-a-side, it was not acceptable. After such a result, we have to admit that it is a disgrace. We must look to the future.”
Cameroon’s second Group A loss at the World Cup in Brazil means their last game against the host nation on Monday is of academic interest only. Injury means it is unlikely to offer a farewell stage for Samuel Eto’o, their talismanic captain who has been at the heart of much of their turmoil in recent years. A bitter feud between Eto’o and Song split the squad at the last World Cup four years ago, where Cameroon lost all of their first-round games. This time, Eto’o led the team in a strike action to squeeze extra money out of embattled football federation (FECAFOOT) on the eve of their departure for Brazil, delaying their expensively-hired charter plane.
Eto’o had been banned three years ago for leading a similar strike which forced the cancellation of an international match.
Cameroon now face an uncertain future with Eto’o battling knee problems, plus an uncertain club future at Chelsea, and the football federation still in a state of flux. Their last president was jailed for alleged fraud after being briefly suspended by Fifa last year.
A “normalisation committee” was put in place to revise the statutes, conduct elections and manage the daily affairs of FECAFOOT. But they did not complete their task by the FIFA deadline and have been given an extension to November.
Cameroon have been to the World Cup an African record seven times, going unbeaten on their debut in 1982 in Spain but exiting after three draws in the group stage. They caught the imagination of football fans worldwide with their unlikely run to the quarter-finals in Italy in 1990, where they beat defending champions Argentina in the opening game. But, since those heroics they have won just one match in 14 games at five subsequent finals – against Saudi Arabia in Japan in 2002.
Cameroon’s distinctive green, red and yellow strip has become an iconic item of sporting fashion worldwide, but so too has the image of a disorganised, self-serving and greed-filled team and federation increasingly out of step with the advances in the modern game.