After the disappointment of missing out on a place at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon's Indomitable Lions have taken a huge leap forward. A 2-1 victory against Togo in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier in March has seen Jean-Paul Akono's side not only remain on course for a place at Brazil 2014, they have also moved to 60th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking - up 19 from their March ranking. It is their highest ranking this year and the highest since being placed 59th in August last year.
In January 2010 Cameroon was ranked 11th in the world and were considered the best team on the continent. Since then, their fortunes have taken a turn for the worse though and failure to qualify for the last two AFCON finals has seen the team slip down the rankings. Akono was given the job of coaching the side on an interim basis in September last year when Frenchman Denis Lavagne was sacked following the side's shock 2-0 defeat against Cape Verde Islands in the last AFCON qualifying round. Although Akono managed to turn things around by beating the islanders in the return leg, it was not enough to avoid being knocked out 3-2 on aggregate.
We intend to do better in 2014 if we qualify. To show that Cameroon is still Cameroon is a big motivation for us.
The Indomitable Lions then played to a goalless draw against Albania in Geneva and lost a friendly in Dar Es Salaam against Tanzania. More importantly though, Akono managed to convince captain Samuel Eto'o to return to the national fold. The striker, who plays his club football in Russia for Anzhi Makhachkala, had been at logger-heads with Cameroonian football officials and had refused to play against Cape Verde in the first leg. His return to the side had the sought-after effect, as the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker scored both goals against Togo.
Akono has also looked to bring new blood into the side and they too have been able to improve matters for the four-time African champions. One of the new players is Benjamin Moukandjo. The forward has featured in all but three of Nancy's league matches this season and has been a revelation since joining the club from Monaco in 2011. The 24-year-old believes one of the reasons why Cameroon has improved is the return of a number of players. "Eto'o, Pierre Wome and Jean Makoun brought us their experience. With them, we are full and better armed. We also realise that we are in a major campaign to qualify, so we are all focused."
Brazil 2014 in sight
Although they are topping Group I of the CAF qualifiers with six points ahead of Libya, Congo DR and Togo, Moukandjo, who started his European career with Stade Rennais as an 18-year-old, warns against over-confidence. "We need to be cautious. The average level of African football is improving. It's not like in the 80s. Everyone can beat everyone these days." And he admits that the Germany 2006 finalists Togo gave them a good run for their money in Yaounde. "Togo is a very good team. We had a hard time beating them at home. Samuel scored a superb goal, but we really had to struggle to win,” he said.
There are, however, some changes on the horizon for the side as officials have said they are looking for a permanent coach, and Akono, who was surprised by the decision, has said he would not apply for the job. Moukandjo says that it is not something that the players can influence, even if they enjoy working with the present coach and are successful. "We are here to play. Those who decide will decide. Whatever their choice is, this will not affect us."
Moukandjo was not in the squad for South Africa 2010, but is working hard towards staying in the mix for Brazil. "At the World Cup in 2010, we did not get very good results. We intend to do better in 2014 if we qualify. To show that Cameroon is still Cameroon is a big motivation for us." And should Moukandjo and his team-mates manage to qualify for Brazil, the Indomitable Lions will continue flying up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.