Cautious Cameroon accept they must clear steep obstacles just to match the 1990 World Cup showing of a place among the last eight. An ‘Indomitable Lions’ team inspired by 38-year-old striker Roger Milla were the first Africans to make the quarterfinals where they fell to England in a Naples thriller that extended to extra time.
Only Senegal have equalled that feat, losing to a Turkish golden goal’ as extra time once again proved the undoing of an African football team with aspirations of conquering the world.
The ‘dark continent’ craves the day one of its own raises the trophy that symbolises international supremacy and many believe Ghana or Ivory Coast can go all the way in South Africa.
But a cruel draw means neither is even guaranteed a last-16 place and Cameroon may prove the most formidable of the African sextet if they can eradicate memories of a dismal 2010 African Nations Cup campaign.
Like all the African contenders, the ‘Lions’ are looking more at second place than first in their group, which includes Netherlands, Denmark and Japan.
Netherlands, arguably the strongest football nation never to lift the World Cup, are outright favourites to top the table, leaving a three-way struggle to join them.
Arguments can be made for Denmark and Cameroon while it would be a shock if Japan matched the achievement of 2002 when they reached the second round for the only time, not least because of home advantage as co-hosts.
Cameroon coach Paul le Guen, the Frenchman who led Lyon to three consecutive league titles, reacted in a matter-of-fact way to the Cape Town draw ahead of his first World Cup assignment.
“It could have been easier and it could also have been more difficult. The Dutch are clearly favourites and there is a reason for that — they have the best team in the group.
“But although qualifying will be difficult, it is not impossible. Cameroon have some good footballers, a good spirit, and there has been a lot of improvement since I took over last year.
“This will be a special World Cup for us simply because it is in Africa. I know my players feel that, and the location could well be an advantage for us,” hinted Le Guen.
His tenure has been mixed, salvaging a qualification campaign by winning four consecutive games before a limp quarterfinals exit from the African Nations Cup in Angola last January cast doubts.
Significant changes made by Le Guen include the elevation of star striker Samuel Eto’o to captain in place of veteran defender Rigobert Song, who was dropped several times but remains in contention for South Africa.
Another long-serving defender, Geremi Njitap, was an even bigger surprise in the preliminary 30-strong squad having gifted Egypt a quarterfinals goal with an act of gross carelessness.
Starting places are there to be won although goalkeeper Carlos Kameni is sure to face the Japanese in Bloemfontein and Tottenham pair Sebastien Bassong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are likely to feature in the back four.
Alexandre Song of Arsenal and Achile Emana of Real Betis should be among those who get the nod in midfield while selecting a partner for Eto'o is problematic with the physical presence of Mohamadou Idrissou one option.