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Bold Cameroon pay dearly for profligacy against Denmark

Cameroon went out of the World Cup after losing 2-1 to Denmark in a thrilling match in Pretoria. Three enduring images from Saturday night. First, Cameroon's players flopping towards the turf at the final whistle, as if felled by buckshot.

sports Updated: Jun 21, 2010 14:23 IST
Guardian News Service
Guardian News Service

Cameroon went out of the World Cup after losing 2-1 to Denmark in a thrilling match in Pretoria.

Three enduring images from Saturday night. First, Cameroon's players flopping towards the turf at the final whistle, as if felled by buckshot.

Then, shortly afterwards, their coach, Paul Le Guen, parrying and obfuscating when asked about the uncivil war in his camp before stubbornly proclaiming: "Je ne regrette rien". And, finally, the pained anguish on Samuel Eto'o's face as he contemplated the end of Cameroon's World Cup hopes.

"It's my greatest disappointment," he said. "All my season had been focused on this. I wanted to have a great tournament, I really wanted to go far. The adventure's ending with a lot of regrets. I gave everything that I had in my legs and in my heart."

The same could be said for Cameroon's players. In their opener against Japan their football was sallow and uninspired, but against Denmark they warmed the Loftus Versfeld Stadium with their consequences-be-damned directness. Eto'o deservedly put them ahead early in the game after a blunder from Christian Poulsen but from then on they squandered opportunities with the carelessness of a billionaire playing the slots.

Eventually they suffered for it. Denmark's equaliser came when Benot Assou-Ekotto watched Simon Kjaer's 70yard diagonal pass spear over his head to the excellent Dennis Rommedahl, who set up Nicklas Bendtner to slot home. Then, just past the hour, Bendtner returned the favour for Rommedahl, who cut inside before curling his shot into the far corner.

A frantic and thrilling game ended with Cameroon throwing bodies into the box, desperately trying to pull themselves away from tournament oblivion. But it was all to no avail. "We could have killed off the match in the first half but fate decided otherwise," said Eto'o. "But when you lose it's because mistakes have been made. We made them in the first game and on Saturday night. This was a great opportunity to do something big but it wasn't to be. Now we've got to finish off the group with dignity for the people of Cameroon."

Dignity has been in short supply in the Cameroon camp during this World Cup, especially after the hastily arranged marriage between LeGuen and his fractious squad broke down. But they surely had the armoury to have achieved something tangible in South Africa. Certainly they scared the Danes half to death.

"We wanted to control the game but we didn't show the quality we have, we didn't show anything," said Daniel Agger. "We just defended. On the positive side we got three points, but we played a really bad game and had a lot of luck. The mistakes we made shouldn't be possible in a World Cup. But sometimes it happens. If Cameroon had been more clinical they would have scored maybe three goals in the first half. That was our luck."

Denmark now face Japan in a winner-takes-all match in Rustenburg on Thursday but Agger has warned his teammates: "We have to improve or we won't progress." It will not be easy. Kjaer, who picked up a second yellow card, will be missing and several key players are nursing minor knocks.

The Danes still have plenty of fight in them judging by their performance on Saturday and the growling stares of their coach, Morten Olsen, afterwards.

When it was suggested to Olsen that his team were too old, he snapped back: "That's not our problem. Our problem is we have too many injuries.

"We are going into the game with Jon Dahl Tomasson injured, Bendtner injured, Daniel Jensen injured," he said. "We cannot change tactically, that's the big problem. I hope during the next four or five days that these kind of players will be 100% fit."

How LeGuen must wish he faced such piddling concerns. The Frenchman almost certainly faces the sack after failing to steer Cameroon out of Group E but insists he will not fall until he is pushed. "No, I will not resign we managed to get to the World Cup, there have been some difficulties but after July my bosses will decide," he said. "I
have no regrets. It is not my way of coaching."

When asked about whether he would have changed anything with hindsight, it was as if he was biting his tongue. "I try to work for the best of the Cameroon national team, so either you trust me or you don't.

I tried my best. I have certain information that you don't have." Sadly, Le Guen, perhaps mindful of jeopardising a future pay-off, would not elaborate further. But when the dust has settled on Cameroon's exit, and he is back home in France, he will surely be much more eager to do so.

First Published: Jun 21, 2010 14:15 IST