The clock is ticking; Brazil2014 World Cup is drawing nearer. Expectations are high and hopes are raised, Cameroonians and Africans are curious. Will the present indomitable lions draw inspiration from the performance of the 1990 generation to spring surprises in June? This is the question running on many lips.
Paired with Mexico, Croatia and Brazil in group A, tough teams like the Argentina and Romania in the 90s, Cameroon are on their seventh World Cup expedition, though 1990 was spectacular.
Since Italia90, each time the indomitable lions qualify for the final phase of the World Cup, memories of their performance flood back.
This unknown squad from the Central Africa sub-region that took the world by storm, leaping to the ¼ finals, the highest for an African country, was only equalled in 2002 by Senegal and Ghana in 2010.
With the remarkable contribution of the whiz kid, Roger Milla scoring four goals spicing them with his corner pitch Makossa dance, Cameroon gained recognition and the quota for African countries’ participating in the World Cup increased.
Energies for such performance which the present squad can bank on are myriad, Emmanuel kessack Maboang now coach, the youngest of the 22 squad at Italia90 trimmed from 60 at the Yugoslavia training camp, recalls.
“We were all experienced players; we had played together for about five years in a strong local championship when Canon of Yaoundé and Tonnerre called the shots.
“Most of the players had won the captain band once for different clubs, Bertain Ebwelle-(former junior lions, Canon coach), Ndip Akem-(coach, cocoa farmer), Stephen Tataw-(Cameroon Football Federation, Fecafoot staff), we were responsible.”
Football has evolved and the national team is made up of professional players who play together only for few days.
Playing through different football categories, cadet, junior and senior, the 1990 generation own their experience to Carl Hans Vegan, (working Claude Le Roy) who discovered and trained these players among them Kana Biyik now in France, Oman Biyik (Coach US Bitam) and Maboang to form a team that emerged in Italia90.
“Without equipment, balls or coats we arrived Italy, participation fee was not yet ready, but the group was physically and tactically ready with a strong spirit, the fighting spirit of the Indomitable Lion”, Maboang said.
Though trashed 4-0 by Soviet Union, the lions fought hard to the quarter finals, only to crack in a duel against England 2-3 due to fatigue.
Maboang had played the previous game against Columbia and was in the line-up against England with only six permanent players, he recalls.
A strong binding force boosted the Lions performance. “Our dressing room intimacy was sacred, though we had our own problems there was a perfect blend between the young and old having mutual respect for each other.
“Every evening after each game the players met in youngest player’s room, my room, (shared with Emmanuel Kunde) to plan, like political meetings, technical and tactical strategies to develop. We upheld this slogan, ‘one for all, all for one’ and we were complementary, the reason for our success”.
Bertain Ebwelle another 1990 lion, founder of Mousang Football Club shares this solidarity and togetherness of the 90s.
“We had the habit of singing beautiful Cameroonian songs to overcome tension and stress. In the dressing room with the Argentinians, we sang so loud and motivated and they marveled. At this point fear left us”.
Starting a game determines how a team progresses and the lions handled their first game against Argentina beautifully.
“We were afraid of countries like Argentina that made a mark in 1986 with players like Maradona, so the solution was to keep him in check, not give him space and exert pressure for the others to watch the ball.
“Late Louis Paul Mfede mentally liberated the lions with his dribble and chased the fear. Winning the first game 1-0 against Argentina gave the Lions the push”, Ebwelle narrates.
But, times have changed with the Lions, 2010 witnessed division in the team with players in camps and the inherent consequence, the team was booted out in the first round with no point.
Professional footballers do not worry if called-up or not as their clubs pay well, coupled with the absence of cohesion in play style, they lack team spirit and the fighting Lions’ spirit, Maboang says.
However, he is convinced that the present generation, if motivated –involving players of the 1990 squad to share experience as was the case ahead of the Cape Verde return leg match, the lions may pick tricks.
“Football authorities needs to bring together old lions like Emmanuel kunde, Stephen Tataw, Victor Ndip Akem, Mbouh Emile in France, Benjamin Massing alongside Roger Milla, (Roving Ambassador) and Joseph Bell Antoine (football consultant) to share the last camp in Yaoundé on June 4 with the Lions.
“If possible, some former Lions, about three, if not all, should be taken to Brazil to motivate the Lions to go beyond the 1990 feat”.
Prof. Joseph Owona, President of the Normalisation Committee of the Cameroon Football Federation, Fecafoot, is working to ensure that this happens though not considering only the 1990 players.
“There are over 300 former players and we are going to take some along to Brazil, but, mostly captains”.
Optimistic, describing the lions as the Brazil of Africa despite poor performance, Maboang who intends to organise a tourney of U-23 for three countries of the region, underscored the need to put a lot of animation around the team, share with them and let them know the people are with them.
Twenty-four years down the lane, Maboang regrets that after playing in Europe, some former lions return home without proper training and are not really associated football projects to give back to Cameroon.
Jean Claude Pagal is one of the 1990 Lions roaming the streets of Yaoundé in dread locks, not really involved in a serious job.
As the federating force, Maboang has created an association of former footballers. Appointed National U-23 assistant Coach; he is banking on the contribution of former lions like Cyril Makanaky who is into Real Estate business to detect talents in Cameroon hinterlands.
Maybe, they can detect another generation of players who would be groomed to jolt the world with the reality of reaching the semi-finals or winning the World Cup.