LUANDA, January 8 – French coach Paul le Guen looms large over a Cameroon team capable of winning a fifth African Nations Cup title in Angola this month.The ‘Indomitable Lions’ are in Lubango-based Group D with Gabon, Tunisia and Zambia and the widespread media verdict is that the 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2002 winners will top the table with a scramble for the runners-up slot.
Assuming they reach the quarter-finals, Cameroon would most likely face title holders and six-time champions Egypt or Nigeria with the former the preferred opponent given the desire for revenge.
Cameroon suffered two losses to Egypt at the 2008 Nations Cup in Ghana, 4-2 in an opening-round group match and 1-0 in the final with a mistake by veteran defender Rigobert Song leading to the Mohamed Aboutraika winner.
By the middle of last year the Lions had descended from Nations Cup silver medalists to a team in danger of not even making it to the first tournament staged by a Portuguese-speaking country.
Veteran German coach Otto Pfister quit after his assistant was fired and former national goalkeeper Thomas ‘Black Spider’ Nkono watched horrified as struggling Morocco forced a goalless draw in Yaounde.
Enter Le Guen, a stern, do-it-my-way fortysomething with a proud pedigree topped by three consecutive French Ligue 1 titles with Lyon, on a short-term contract and his impact was immediate.
Seemingly ageless central defender Rigobert Song was the major casualty, losing his place in the starting line-up, and the captaincy to Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o.
Song eventually fought his way back into an injury-hit defence while Eto’o led Cameroon to victories over Gabon (twice), Togo and Morocco that ensured qualification for Angola and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Spain-based striker Achille Webo was recalled in another significant change and now Cameroon are being mentioned alongside Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Egypt as potential winners of the January 31 Luanda final.
Down the years, Cameroon have always had a strong core and it remains today with goalkeeper Idriss Kameni, Song, midfielder Jean Makoun and three-time African Footballer of the Year Eto’o.
Add a strong supporting cast plus the touchline insight of Le Guen and the wish of the Cameroon sports minister for a Yaounde victory parade early next month may well come true.