RIO de JANEIRO
The great Pele once predicted that an African team would be crowned world champions by 2000.It never happened and has remotely looked like occurring.
African teams have produced some notable World Cup victories – Algeria over West Germany in 1982 and Cameroon over Argentina in 1990 – but no country has reached the last four of the competition.
Three sides have stopped at the quarterfinals and all – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 – played well to merit a semi-final berth.
Their failure to go one step further at the world’s biggest football competition can be debated upon with no logical conclusion, except that the temperament of African sides goes missing when the chips are down.
Cameroon, who open the African dream at the 2014 World Cup against Mexico in Natal, are in many ways the aristocrats of the game on their continent.
The four-time African champions have qualified for seven World Cups, an African record. They were the first African side to reach the last eight of the global showpiece and earned global affection for the grit and panache they displayed at the 1990 World Cup. It remains the only time the Indomitable Lions advanced beyond the group stages.
Few Cameroonians have a strong conviction that their country will advance to the next round. In a group featuring hosts Brazil, a decent side in Croatia and an unpredictable Mexico, Volke Finker’s side must play remarkably well to play more than three games at the tournament.
The coach’s message to his players has been to focus on one game at a time and the extent of the grasping of his gospel will be put to test by Mexico.
Naturally all the attention has been on leading goalscorer Samuel Eto’o but the all-time African Nations Cup goal scorer will not, at 33, do it on his own. Cameroon’s stats make poor reading, however. They boast one victory in their last four World Cups, a run of 13 matches. Since their 2-1 elimination of Colombia in June 1990 at the tournament hosted in Italy, Cameroon have only registered one World Cup win – a 1-0 over Saudi Arabia at the South Korea/Japan tournament in 2002. Mexico meanwhile have staggered and their form going into Brazil is, from a Cameroon perspective, encouraging.
Javier Hernandez’s lack of play time at Manchester United has left him short on confidence, accounting for his worst for the El Tricolor as the national team are known with no goals in nine. While Africa will be praying the Lions roar and gets it prey, Cameroon-Mexico is in effect anybody’s game.