19 June 2014

Africa: Indomitable Lions Put On a World Cup Horror Show

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Alexander Song apologises for a foul in Cameroon's clash with Mexico.

African football has worked hard in the last few decades to try and break the stereotype of the continent's players being overly physical, ill-disciplined and tactically naive.

But Cameroon's performance in their 4-0 World Cup loss to Croatia on Wednesday night was a step backwards and has for many in the outside world no doubt reinforced that perception.

The Indomitable Lions were up against a good side, make no mistake about that, but they looked like a throwback to the 1980s with a needless red card, comical defending, wild shooting and even a scuffle between two of their own players in which one tried to head-butt the other.

There was little hope for the side coming into the tournament if we are honest. Their one player of genuine quality, Samuel Eto'o, was half fit, at best, and they had qualified for the finals only because preliminary opponents Togo had fielded an ineligible player.

But to see how quickly they descended into farce was desperately disappointing, not just for their own fans, but for millions of neutrals around the world who still hold them dear after dream run at Italia 90.

Wednesday's display was dismal, petulant and unprofessional. From Alex Song's red card late in the first half to an ugly incident near the end as left back Benoît Assou-Ekotto attempted to land a head-butt on teammate Benjamin Moukandjo, it was a horror show.

Some will claim it is the passion for the jersey spilling over into frustration at not winning, but that is nonsense. It was selfish indulgence on the part of the players with no respect for the jersey they wear.

It means they exit the competition after just two matches and have just Monday's meeting with Brazil as a chance for redemption - but don't hold your breath for this deeply-divided group of players whose trip to the finals started with their refusal to board the plane from Cameroon over a pay dispute with their own FA.

That was quickly resolved, but it set the tone for what has turned into an ugly campaign that will likely spell the end of international careers for some of their more established stars, as hinted by coach Volker Finke, who must be walking a tightrope himself.

"It's a tough result to take," he said. "It's always difficult to play with ten men, but that's still no excuse for tonight's performance.

There's no doubt that Croatia were more clinical in front of goal, but Cameroon also had chances to score.

"We need to move on and look to the future, because this team is full of promising players."

Croatia can feel pleased. They now have the opportunity to advance to the second round of they defeat Mexico in their final clash on Monday.

A draw would be enough only if Cameroon defeat Brazil, but let's face it, that isn't going to happen.

"We didn't start the match well, but we improved by keeping possession of the ball a bit better," Croatia coach Niko Kovac said. "We played in a very efficient manner tonight. Although Cameroon didn't play as well as they can, that was partly down to our performance.

"We have to put this victory to the back of our minds for now, because our hardest challenge is still to come. The match with Mexico is going to be our cup final."

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