JOHANNESBURG — 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 1 in the final
elimination phase for the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
Gabon had six points after two rounds, shock 2006 qualifiers Togo four
and Morocco and Cameroon one each with the 'Indomitable Lions' last on
A 1-0 away defeat by 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 Saint-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 with space to spare.
last hurdle is away to Morocco this Saturday in Fes, where a win will
guarantee Cameroon a place among the five African qualifiers for the
first World Cup staged on the continent.
A draw will suffice if
second-placed Gabon fail to win away to Togo and the 'Lions' could even
afford a loss if a similar fate befalls the unpredictable Gabonese
The only certainty is a French-coached 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
Morocco need maximum points to have any hope of making the
2010 African Nations Cup – the World Cup qualifiers double as
eliminators for the biennial continental tournament – so Cameroon face
But former star Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma
has faith in Le Guen and believes Cameroon will clinch a sixth World
Cup appearance after appearing in the 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002
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.
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 in a radio interview.
knows the reserved, media-shy and strict Le Guen well as they were
team-mates at PSG during the 1990s when the Cameroonian was among the
most feared strikers in Africa.
"He does not talk much to
journalists or to people around him, but I like him. Paul has a special
personality and will not tolerate nonsense from anybody."
revolution instigated by Le Guen when he took over 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.
was also a recall for Spain-based 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.
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.
will realise that it is complicated coaching an African national team.
He will have to immerse himself in local life and its unusual
organisation. He has not much time and the environment is completely
different to Europe."
But seven goals and three victories later,
Le Guen is in pole position, one point ahead of Giresse entering the
final straight with the greatest qualification prize in football at