With a history of giant-killings, sendings-off galore, constant in-fighting and crazy kits, the Cameroon national side are every neutral’s dream.
Unlike certain other African nations who regularly book a place in the World Cup only to lose 1-0 to Russia and draw with Japan, Cameroon tend to go out in a blaze of glory or an explosion of ignominy. They also have the magnificent nickname 'The Indomitable Lions.'
The rise of the Indomitable Lions
Cameroon first appeared on the world’s biggest stage at World Cup 1982 where they drew 1-1 with Italy.
“Jesus fucking Christ Italy, how have you drawn with a side ranked so much lower than you – now we have only qualified in second and will get a tougher second round draw,” was the headline on La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Sadly, Cameroon had only drawn with Peru and Poland and were eliminated without losing a game by dint of having only scored one goal.
The football world failed to take note of Cameroon’s promising 1982 outing and the Lions were horribly patronised ahead of the 1990 World Cup.
Cameroon were, and still often are, called ‘the Cameroons’ by the English media who knowledgably predicted an early exit and stressed their hope that ‘this shitty nation go out without being too horribly embarrassed by bigger countries.’
But the Africans had other ideas and they amazingly upset swarthy holders Argentina 1-0. After taking an unexpected lead, Cameroon held the South Americans at bay with a series of X-rated challenges, which culminated in the dismissal of Benjamin Massing for nearly killing Claudio Cannigia. Argentina couldn’t prevent a 1-0 defeat that gave Cameroon one of the greatest scalps in history.
Led by Russian boss Valeri Kuzmyich Nepomniachi, who didn’t speak a word of French and communicated with his players in Morse code, Cameroon also saw off Romania before looking less than motivated in a 4-0 loss to the Soviet Union.
In the second round, geriatric striker Roger Milla saw off Colombia 2-1 in extra-time and celebrated with his trademark ‘Milla wiggle’. The sight of a middle-aged Sunday league striker gyrating around the corner flag stirred the heart of any true football fan.
At the quarter-final stage, Cameroon should have beaten England and led until the 83rd minute when Gary Lineker showed ice-cool nerve to convert a penalty. He repeated the feat in extra-time as the Lions’ challenges flew in.
It was rumoured on English TV that Cameroon brought a witch-doctor to Italy. This was untrue in the same way that Russia didn’t bring a bear to the championship.
1994-98: The in-fighting years
Cameroon’s passion eventually became divisive. Under the hapless Henri Michel, most of the squad traded blows during training for the 1994 World Cup.
Goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell was at the centre of the ill feeling stating: “I hate everyone in my team. When I’m in goal I think about killing them all,” in a pre-tournament press conference.
Michel’s men still drew 2-2 with Sweden but were obliterated 6-1 by the terminally mediocre Russia with several Cameroon players celebrating each goal their opponents scored.
The only bright spot of the tournament was Milla becoming the oldest World Cup scorer at the age of 42.
At World Cup 1998, Cameroon put in a creditable performance against Italy but were robbed by the erroneous dismissal of Raymond Kalla. Pointless outfit Austria ruined their chances of progress with a late Toni Polster equaliser.
2002-04: The crazy kit years
At World Cup 2002, Cameroon made headlines for their sleeveless shirt. It was a fantastic kit, a thing of real beauty.
However, a side effect of Puma’s design was that commentators spent much of the competition openly perving on the Cameroon players’ muscles.
Anything a player did right was attributed to his ‘bulging biceps’ or ‘awesome anterior deltoids’ rather than his footballing ability, while Jon Champion regularly said things like ‘what would it be like to wake up in Patrick Mboma’s powerful arms?’ before sighing.
In 2004, Puma went too far by designing a one-piece kit. FIFA banned Cameroon from wearing it because it ‘you could often see players' penises.’ Cameroon went back to wearing a normal kit with shirts and shorts and that.
Benjamin Massing (1984-1990)
Samuel Eto'o (1996 - )
Roger Milla (1978-1994)
Eric Djemba-Djemba (2002- )