Cameroon turn to Milla to lift team spirit
YAOUNDE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Cameroon President Paul Biya has called on former international Roger Milla to boost team morale for the African Nations Cup.
Milla met Sports Minister Philippe Mbarga Mboa on Monday in the capital Yaounde and said he would travel to Egypt with the squad to help raise spirits dampened by the team's failure to qualify for this year's World Cup finals.
Morale has also been hit by a dispute over non-payment of coaching salaries.
'The president requested me to restore order in the national team,' Milla told reporters. 'I have been designated to be part of the official delegation to Egypt to help boost the morale of our players.'
Milla said despite the World Cup setback, Cameroon still had a chance of carrying home the continental trophy after the biennial tournament kicks off on Friday.
Cameroon have won the African Nations Cup four times, a record they share with hosts Egypt and Ghana. They open their campaign against Angola in Cairo on Saturday.
'Eliminated from the World Cup, the team is going through delicate moments, but I don't think there is fire in the Indomitable Lions' den,' said Milla.
Milla, a roving ambassador for his country and various sporting and humanitarian organisations who is sometimes referred to in his homeland as 'The Old Lion', was twice named African Footballer of the Year.
He first won the award in 1976 and again in 1990, when he led Cameroon to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Italy.
'All the players are eager to put on their jerseys and see Cameroon's flag fly high again. Now all we need is good organisation. We have every chance of winning this CAN (African Nations Cup),' he said.
Milla added: 'The players are conscious of this. We have the means and the players. And the means will be put to use.'
He did not comment on Sunday's incident in which in-form Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o spat at an opponent during a club match. Eto'o was due to join the rest of the Cameroon squad on Monday.
The team is still unsettled by a salary dispute, however.
'We are getting into the seventh month without salary,' Cameroon soccer website CAMFOOT quoted first assistant coach Raul Aguas as saying in an interview on Sunday, although he stopped short of threatening not to travel to Egypt.
'I think that we ought to be paid before going there,' he was quoted as saying. 'This is not normal ... We have given a lot of time for things to be put in order. There are still a few days for us to be paid. I hope they will do it.'
Sports ministry officials said earlier this month that some of the salary arrears had been paid, but Aguas said he and the other coaches had not yet received the money.