January 21, 2010

By Grant Wahl, SI.com

Group E
Samuel Eto'o
Hit man Samuel Eto'o can carry Cameroon on his back -- as long as he's fed service.
Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
June 14 Japan Bloemfontein
June 19 Denmark Pretoria
June 24 Netherlands Cape Town
Fast Facts
COACH: Paul Le Guen (first year)
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: Finished first in Africa Group A
PREVIOUS WORLD CUPS: 5 appearances (1982, '90, '94, '98, 2002); quarterfinalists in '90
Projected Starting Lineup
G Carlos Kameni Espanyol (Spain)
D Geremi Newcastle United (England)
D Rigobert Song Trabzonspor (Turkey)
D Nicolas N'Koulou AS Monaco (France)
D Benoît Assou-Ekotto Tottenham Hotspur (England)
M Jean Makoun Olympique Lyon (France)
M Alexandre Song Arsenal (England)
M Landry N'Guémo Celtic (Scotland)
F Achille Emana Real Betis (Spain)
F Pierre Webó Real Mallorca (Spain)
F Samuel Eto'o Inter Milan (Italy)

Over the next four months, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Cameroon. Click here for the full archive.

Key players

Striker Samuel Eto'o, a three-time African Player of the Year, is one of the world's most dangerous scoring threats, and the Inter Milan man produced in World Cup qualifying with nine goals in 11 matches. He's in the prime of his career at age 28, and he knows how to produce on the big stage (see his goal in the 2009 Champions League final for Barcelona). If Eto'o isn't scoring, he draws defenders away from the Indomitable Lions' other two forwards, Spain-based Achille Emana and Pierre Webó.

Cameroon has a good mix of experience and young talent. Arsenal's Alexandre Song shoulders most of the creative duties in midfield, with Jean Makoun providing some bite behind him. Stéphane Mbia was shut out of the lineup during the last games of qualifying due to coach Paul Le Guen's 4-3-3 formation, but Mbia will either be an energetic sub in midfield or may win a starting role before the Cup.

The Lions' defense should be a strong suit. Carlos Kameni is one of the steadiest goalkeepers in Spain, and the four-man back line has promising youngsters (Nicolas N'Koulou and Benoît Assou-Ekotto) and experience in right back Geremi and center back Rigobert Song (who is aiming to play in his fourth World Cup). But both Geremi (31 years old) and Song (33) have showed their age at times during the ongoing African Cup of Nations, in which their decline in speed has allowed younger, faster attackers to blow by them. Another concern is mental discipline: Song, the most capped player in Cameroon history, is one of two players to be red-carded at two World Cups. At least he's in good company: Zinedine Zidane is the other.

What to watch for

Cameroon struggled at the start of World Cup qualifying under German coach Otto Pfister, but a sea change took place under Le Guen, an attack-minded Frenchman with previous stops at Glasgow Rangers, Lyon and PSG. Le Guen stripped Song of his long-term captaincy, handing it to Eto'o, and both players responded well -- Eto'o banged in goals, Song won back his starting spot and the Lions qualified with relative ease.

This should be an entertaining team to watch, as you might expect of any team that opts for a 4-3-3. But since Cameroon's historic run to the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals (in which it led against England before falling late), the Lions have won just one World Cup game in nine matches. In other words, it's time for some results. Eto'o has the power to put this team on his back, but will the midfield have enough creative spark to get him the ball?

Key match in group stage

June 19 vs. Denmark. The Lions should get off to a good start in their opening game against Japan, but the swing match in this group will be Cameroon-Denmark. The Danes surprisingly breezed through European qualifying in a group with Portugal and Sweden, but did they peak too early? We'll find out here. Cameroon has more talent than Denmark, but will the consistency be there? If the Lions can win this game, it shouldn't matter what happens in the last group game against the Netherlands.

Celebrity scouting report: Luc Mbah a Mouté*

Luc Mbah a Mouté Our team is really good. Eto'o, who's one of the best strikers in the world, he said that this is the best team he's played with since he has been on the national team. We've got young guys -- very talented guys -- that really knew we had to make it. We qualified for four World Cups in a row before missing out in 2006. ... We're going to see first how the team is looking in the African Cup of Nations, and from there we can make adjustments. But from Eto'o, the captain, to the midfield and back line, everyone has to step up and play well in order for us to go far. ... I think we'll surprise a lot of people. It's very important for us to do well since it's held in Africa. I'll be there. I cannot miss it for anything.
*The Milwaukee Bucks forward is from Yaoundé, Cameroon. As told to Nicki Jhabvala.

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