Johannesburg — THE Indomitable Lions of Cameroon waved goodbye to the 2010 World Cup show, without even a roar to signal their presence, but the fallout between two of their greatest players in history continued to overshadow what has been a forgettable campaign by Africa's most successful team at this global football showcase.
When Cameroon legend Roger Milla questioned skipper Samuel Eto'o's passion, to give the same commitment to the Indomitable Lions cause as he does to his clubs in Europe, it created a storm and led to the Cameroon captain threatening to quit long before the first ball had been played at this World Cup.
"When I was growing up my bedroom was full of posters of footballers who I wanted to be like," Eto'o said. "The biggest poster, that was right behind my bed, was of Roger Milla.
"Since then I've been able to get to know my childhood idol properly. But, in doing so, he has, unfortunately, contributed to darken and tarnish the image. I can now see with adult eyes someone very different from my childhood dreams.
"In response to the words that have been published so explicitly that I have done nothing for my country, I ask is an Olympic gold medal, two African Nations Cup and the all-time goal-scoring record for the country nothing?"
"What has Milla done? He hasn't won the World Cup. They played in a quarter-final (in 1990) and with what a team! They had one of the best teams with some great players throughout. It's not because they knew glory at the age of 40 that they can talk.
"And then you wonder, 'are they my people?' Are they really my people? Is it really worth going to the World Cup? Is it worth me going to the World Cup?
"I've still got some days to think about it but I'll see if my taking part is important because I don't need this in my career.
"It is always before tournaments that bitter people wake up."
But after influential politicians and Cameroon coach Paul Le Geun intervened to resolve the dispute, Eto'o decided to play for his country but not before taking an amazing dig at Milla, who made his name as a 38-year-old goalscoring forward for an Indomitable Lions' team that illuminated the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy and reached the quarter-finals.
"After Paul took over he spoke to me and said 'Samuel, you have already won everything but now you have to lead your country to the World Cup finals and convince your teammates that it is possible to get better performances out of them'," said Eto'o.
But Cameroon, who played their last match against the Netherlands yesterday, were disappointing in their first two games -- losing to Japan and Denmark -- to become the first team to be eliminated from this World Cup.
Eto'o fired blanks in that shock defeat against Japan, who used a World Cup qualifying match against Zimbabwe -- which ended goalless in George -- to prepare themselves for the challenge that comes with playing African opposition like Cameroon.
The Inter Milan hitman then fired Cameroon into the lead in their game against Denmark, which they needed to win to stay alive, but they couldn't hold on and the Danes completed a 2-1 come-from-behind win.
Milla, who now appears on Coca-Cola adverts, has once again blasted Eto'o.
"Eto'o may have a great reputation but he didn't do anything for the team during this World Cup," Milla told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf ahead of yesterday's match between Cameroon and the Netherlands.
Milla said while he acknowledged that Eto'o was angry with him, for his earlier comments criticising the striker, the Inter Milan forward had done little -- during the decisive matches in this World Cup -- to prove him wrong.
"I know he's angry with me because of it. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to disprove my criticism. He accomplished nothing.
"And this by someone who may be the best footballer in the world," Milla said.
"This is why I'm so disappointed that he didn't show our people what it is longing for so deeply."
Milla had earlier said that while Eto'o had won a lot of silverware at Barcelona and Inter Milan, he had won nothing with Cameroon and the people of his country were still waiting for him to deliver.
"It's also a question of discipline. Cameroon is waiting for him to react," Milla said.
Eto'o has won three Champions League titles, two with Barcelona and one with Inter Milan, playing influential roles in all of them and has also won league titles in Spain and Italy.
But he has failed to inspire the Indomitable Lions to greatness and his case is another example of the tension that now exists between the big-name players, who do very well for their clubs in Europe, and the fans back home in Africa who question whether they play with the same commitment for their countries.
Fans and critics believe that the big-name African stars do not perform, with the same conviction, for their countries as they do for their clubs because they are afraid of picking up serious injuries that could end their careers.
Others believe that it's a question of incentives and the players are prepared to break their bones for their European clubs because they are paid handsomely while the poor African associations pay their national team players poorly. South African midfielder Steven Pienaar was expected to be one of the star players of this World Cup, on home soil, after a brilliant season for Everton in the English Premiership.
But Pienaar failed to sparkle and was largely anonymous as Bafana Bafana became the first host nation to fail to qualify beyond the group phase of the World Cup.
Pienaar complained that he was tired, for this World Cup, after a lengthy and tough campaign in England.
While Didier Drogba has taken Cote d'Ivoire to the World Cup, he hasn't helped win them any title despite turning himself into one of the greatest forwards in the world.
Nigerian players have also been slammed for having an indifferent attitude, when it comes to the Super Eagles, while they seem to reserve their best for their clubs. In return the players have complained that they usually find chaotic structures at their home nations, with poor preparations the order of the day, and this has had a negative impact on their performance.
Others have said that it's unfair to judge them given that they play with quality teammates at their European clubs while most of their teammates at their national teams are very ordinary.
Eto'o is believed to have spent a fortune, buying personal gifts for his Indomitable Lions' teammates, to try and inspire them to greatness at this World Cup.