BLOEMFONTEIN, June 13 – Cameroon's Treble-winning striker Samuel Eto'o has Japan in his sights as the "Indomitable Lions" launch their World Cup bid on Monday against a misfiring Japan.Paul Le Guen’s Cameroon, the first African nation to reach the World Cup quarter-finals two decades ago, hope Eto’o can inspire them in the same way as 38-year-old Roger Milla did in Italy in 1990.
The Inter Milan player, who rivals Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba as the best striker from Africa, has enjoyed a stellar two seasons, winning the "Treble" of European Cup, league and national cup for Barcelona in 2009 and repeating the feat for Inter in 2010.
"Eto’o is a great player," said Frenchman Le Guen. "He’s used to playing great games, he’s ready to cope with the situation, he’s used to the pressure."
Others in the squad include Arsenal midfielder Alexandre Song and Tottenham central defender Sebastien Bassong.
"We’re ready. We’ve worked hard since the start of the training camp. We’re ready to fight against Japan and win the game," said the Paris-born Bassong.
"We’re used to playing against quick attackers and good players. We’re all professionals and will have to deal with it. It’ll be tough but we know how to cope."
No African team boasts more experience than Cameroon, whose appearance in South Africa is a record sixth at a World Cup for an African nation and who will revel in "home" support.
Former Lyon, Rangers and PSG coach Le Guen is confident his team can negotiate a difficult Group E also including the Netherlands and Denmark. He said he had 23 players fit and available, hinting Song might not make the starting XI.
Cameroon have struggled in their warm-up matches but in Bloemfontein on Monday will face a Japan side in a trough after a string of poor performances in which the Blue Samurai have netted only once in five games.
In their last warm-up match Japan fought out a disappointing goalless stalemate against Zimbabwe after a run of four successive defeats in which they managed just one goal through Marcus Tulio Tanaka in a 2-1 defeat by England.
Their poor run has given further ammunition to those who have criticised coach Takeshi Okada’s claim that they have a chance to reach the semi-finals.
Japan, three-time Asian champions, admit Cameroon, who can be physically intimidating, will be a tough proposition but say they will stick to their attacking style based on short passing.
"We can’t change that. It’s impossible to employ long balls all of sudden," Okada said.
The Brazilian-born centre-back Tanaka has urged his team-mates to think for themselves as the under-fire coach struggles to find the right formula.
"Football is fun just because each player has his own idea. I’ll be ready to attack if there is a chance," he said.
CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda is expected to operate as a lone striker in the opener while former Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura, though no longer the top star, is eager to prove his worth, likely from the bench.
KEY TO MATCH
Samuel Eto’o v Japan’s attack
Cameroon boast one of the world’s top strikers in Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o. Last month the former Barcelona star added a third European Cup to his bulging medals cabinet. Japan, on the other hand, are currently toothless up front, having managed just one goal in their past five fixtures.