Cameroon bet on Song in search of 1990 World Cup magic
Cameroon’s big bet for the World Cup was to put their campaign in the hands of one of their greatest players.
Rigobert Song, a highly respected former captain, was appointed coach in February despite a lack of managerial experience outside of Cameroon’s youth structures. He takes on the challenge of trying to get the Indomitable Lions past the group stage of a World Cup for the first time since Roger Milla and Co. made it to the quarter-finals in 1990 and put the African football on the map.
Song was successful on his first mission when Cameroon won a two-legged tie against Algeria in March to qualify for the tournament in Qatar, but only after a final goal from Karl Toko Ekambi four minutes into added time at the end of the extra time from the second game.
Subsequent defeats to Uzbekistan and South Korea in World Cup warm-ups have raised questions about whether federation president Samuel Eto’o, a former teammate of Song, rushed to replace Toni Conceição. The Portuguese coach led Cameroon to a third-place finish at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and laid the groundwork for Qatar to build on.
A NEW SONG
No one doubts Song’s huge contribution to Cameroonian football. He played in four World Cups, eight African Cups, won two African titles and set a national record of 137 appearances for his country. But he has not yet convinced everyone in his new role.
Song’s coaching resume is nowhere near as comprehensive as his accomplishments as a player. A Cameroon ‘A’ side he was in charge of at the 2018 African Nations Championship finished last in their group and were hampered by defeats to Congo Republic and Angola.
The 46-year-old former Liverpool defender coached the Under-23 side before his promotion but doubts over his ability are following Cameroon until the World Cup, where he will face Switzerland, Serbia and Brazil in Group G.
Cameroon’s threat of attack has been heightened by former France Under-21 international Bryan Mbeumo’s decision to switch allegiance to his father’s home country.
The 23-year-old Brentford striker offers Premier League experience alongside Vincent Aboubakar and Toko Ekambi, who were a terrific strike combination and the top two scorers in this year’s Africa Cup with 13 goals to them both. There is also Bayern Munich striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Starting midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa is arguably Cameroon’s most important player, but Song has so far failed to bolster a defense that has a habit of dropping goals early in the game. He failed to convince Liverpool defender Joel Matip to return to international duty.
GHOSTS OF 1990
Milla’s team that beat Argentina and Colombia and took England to the wire at the 1990 World Cup in Italy broke the barriers of African football by reaching the quarter-finals and near semi-finals -finals, and is the standard against which every Cameroonian team has since been judged. Everyone was a disappointment.
The Central African country may yearn for a repeat of that magical run of 32 years ago, but the cold reality is that Cameroon have won only one World Cup game since 1990, against Saudi Arabia in 2002.
Cameroon lost all three games and had the worst record of 32 teams at the last World Cup they played in in 2014.
Associated Press writer Isifu Wirfengla in Yaoundé, Cameroon, contributed to this report.
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Gerald Imray, Associated Press