Cameroon start the tournament as Africa’s best hope. The team has a central spine of experienced and talented players, from the goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, who plies his trade in Spain, through to their star striker, Samuel Eto’o, undoubtedly one of the best forwards in the world.
Coach Paul Le Guen, who took over the side when they were struggling to qualify in August last year, did well to turn the campaign around but he struggled to find the right balance in January’s Africa Cup of Nations, where Cameroon could only reach the quarter-finals.
Le Guen’s biggest problem is working out how best to use Eto’o. As talented as Cameroon’s captain is, he is used to the luxury of playing alongside similarly gifted footballers. Instead of Wesley Sneijder providing the killer through ball or Diego Milito the perfect lay-off, Eto’o knows he cannot rely on similar five-star service from Achille Emana or Mohamadou Idrissou.
Cameroon look strong in the middle of the park, where both Arsenal’s Alex Song and Jean Makoun of Lyon have Champions League experience. Monaco’s Nicolas Nkoulou and Tottenham’s Sebastian Bassong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto should provide strength at the back. Le Guen will be hoping he doesn’t have to rely on the aging legs of Alex Song’s cousin, Rigobert, who first played for Cameroon in 1994.
For both Cameroon and Japan this match is a must-win. The Netherlands are clear group favorites, while Denmark could also be dangerous. Japan may have been the first team to qualify for this World Cup but they will have to improve if they are not to be one of the first teams leaving. Their coach, Takeshi Okada, was in charge during their disastrous 1998 World Cup campaign, which saw them crash out in the first round losing all three games and some fans fear a repeat may be on the cards. Okada, bizarrely, has predicted Japan will reach the semis, though what he is basing that on, no-one knows.
His side appear to be overly reliant on Keisuke Honda, an imaginative forward who plays in Russia for CSKA Moscow. Shunsuke Nakamura, for so long Japan’s creative force, has not looked the same since an undistinguished spell at Spanish club, Espanyol.
Cameroon will start as favorites. Africa will be hoping they can rise to the challenge.
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