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May 20, 2014

32 Teams in 32 Days: Cameroon

Samuel Eto'o and Cameroon are set to make an African team record seventh World Cup appearance.

Group A | Brazil | Mexico | Croatia


Team DNA

The Cameroon you're thinking of are a physically imposing team who are strong in defence but a little laboured up front. They are the ones who became the darlings of the continent in 1990, but tapered off after that, exiting World Cups in the first round with as much regularity as they entered them. Their new manager, Volker Finke, has tried to change some of that.

Cameroon are still going to be a painful bunch to run into, but they could also be difficult to keep up with. Finke has taken his Freiberg way to West Africa and encouraged a game based on quick passing and moving the ball through the middle to the likes of Samuel Eto'o up front. Finke's approach requires different disciplines, more creativity and an increased attacking mindset, but it is something Cameroon are warming up to.

They still need to work on their strike rate, which would be enhanced from long range, but their weakness will be defending against set pieces. That will not matter as much as if Cameroon allow the differences that divided them over the past few months to come back. If they present a united front, they could be a real threat at this World Cup.

Starting scenarios

History

This will be the country's seventh World Cup appearance, which is a continental record. Cameroon have exited at the group stage in every year except 1990, when they won their group (a group that included reigning champion Argentina) and reached the quarterfinals before losing to England.

How they reached Brazil

Cameroon topped a qualifying group filled with aggressive opposition in Libya, DR Congo and Togo, but their path to the summit was not simple. After a victory against DR Congo at home, they lost to Libya, but remained in contention by beating Togo. Before their next match, Cameroon had a change of coach, with Finke taking over from Jean-Paul Akono.

Cameroon promptly lost to Togo despite Finke's arrival, but they were later awarded a 3-0 win after Togo fielded an ineligible player, paving the way for Cameroon to qualify. Another goalless draw in DR Congo was followed by a victory against Libya, advancing Cameroon to the third round. They got there with a goal difference of just plus-5, having scored only seven times (four when you take away the Togo-forfeited match).

Cameroon were paired with Tunisia for the two legs of the playoffs, which yielded a goalless draw in Rades, Tunisia, in the first match. Then, the Indomitable Lions found their way in Yaounde, Cameroon, where they beat Tunisia 4-1 to book a trip to Brazil.

The numbers never lie

Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:

Key battles

Being drawn in the same group as Brazil puts Cameroon in a difficult but enviable position, but they will have the opportunity to take part in a special match in front of the home fans.

Finke told Reuters the match against the hosts "might be the easiest," because he will not need to do anything special to spur his players on. "As a coach, you don't need to deliver any motivation because, for any player, the chance to play against Brazil is a real highlight of their career," he said.

Before they even get that far, Cameroon have to worry about the other two teams in Group A -- Mexico and Croatia. They play Mexico first, then Croatia, which may mean their fate may be decided before they face Brazil. It will be important to earn as many points as possible, including at least one victory from the first two matches. Cameroon will not care which team they are able to beat and would prefer to shock both.

Most important player

Samuel Eto'o is set to compete in his fourth World Cup for Cameroon.
Samuel Eto'o is set to compete in his fourth World Cup for Cameroon.

Some eyes will be trained on Joel Matip, the 22-year-old centre-back who plays at Schalke. He has been compared to legendary Cameroon defender Rigobert Song, whose cousin Alex is on the current squad. Others may point to Vincent Aboubakar, who was tied with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the second-highest scorer in French Ligue 1 with 16 goals.

But the Cameroonian who is expected to steal the spotlight is Samuel Eto'o.

After retiring from international football on more than one occasion, numerous public spats with the authorities and a return to form with Chelsea, Eto'o will lead the team and provide their heartbeat. His relationship with Finke will be vitally important, especially given that they previously had a falling out.

Eto'o will be making his fourth World Cup appearance -- as many as Rigobert Song and Jacques Songo'o -- and is two World Cup goals shy of Roger Milla's record (five).

Definition of success

In some ways, Cameroon have already achieved some success just by qualifying for the World Cup. They also got there despite missing out on the past two African Nations' Cups and a seemingly endless supply of infighting.

Reaching Brazil is one thing; now, Cameroon will have to make an impact there, a bigger impact than the one they left during their past four tournaments. Threats of repeating the heroics from 24 years ago are starting to sound like empty words, and Cameroon will want to fill them this time.

Video: Cameroon odds in World Cup (Australia only)

While their supporters and critics will demand progression out of the group stage -- something that will be fairly tough -- Finke may be content with a showing that lives up to his principles. Finke has tried to introduce the high-pressing, oft-attacking game that he succeeded with in Germany, and he will want to see Cameroon put that, and the good of the collective over the individual, into practice.

How far will Cameroon go?

Cameroon's aim to get out of Group A is not an unrealistic one, but they will have to defy expectations with victories against either Mexico or Croatia, or both. The smart money would be on an eighth group-stage exit, but optimistically, they could finish in the round of 16.

ESPN FC Analysts' take: Shaka Hislop

There's a lot of talent on the squad, including strikers Eto'o and Pierre Webo, and midfielders Stephane Mbia and Jean Makoun. If all these players stay fit and find form, they could have a very good tournament.

For as talented a squad as they are, Cameroon aren't the youngest side in the draw, and you have to wonder whether they'll have enough in the tank to get out of this group. Both strikers are 32, and there are few other scorers on the team who have extensive international experience.

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