Samuel Eto’o is continuing to lavish praise on a new generation of Cameroon internationals who have helped the country to yet another quarter-finals appearance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
The Cameroon captain, whose anchor role at the head of the team’s attack continues to attract the most attention, has been insisting since the side’s narrow escape from Group D that he is just one of the many parts contributing to the FIFA World Cup™-qualified Indomitable Lions’ potential at the tournament in Angola.
They are a team with a lot of experience. There are three, four players (in their side) who have achieved a lot. They are also always well prepared, but I’m confident in the ability of our players.
Before the event, Eto’o made the bold claim that he would try to beat the record number of goals scored in a single tournament, and his so far unsuccessful quest continues to be something of a testy subject around the Cameroon camp.
But on Sunday the Inter Milan forward was defiant as he sought to deflect attention onto his team-mates and away from his personal quest. “I have the same responsibilities as the rest of the squad,” he said as Cameroon prepared for their Monday quarter-final against defending champions Egypt in Benguela. It is the seventh successive tournament that Cameroon have made it to the last eight, their last failure coming in South Africa in 1996.
“I don’t understand all this debate about me. We are 23 Cameroonians here to defend the colours of our national side. The youngsters have done so well especially after the changes we made for the game against Tunisia,” added Eto’o.
Change for the future?
Cameroon coach Paul LeGuen thrust several inexperienced players into the side for the last of the group matches in Lubango, where Cameroon had to twice come from behind before drawing 2-2 with Tunisia. They ended up second in the table ahead of Gabon, who beat them 1-0 to open the tournament, by virtue of the goals-scored tiebreaker after a three-way tie (also with Zambia) on four points.
Veteran defenders Rigobert Song and Geremi were the two biggest casualties of the changes, with both starting on the bench. But Eto'o again shifted attention back to the team as a whole. “This tournament is not about Samuel Eto’o, Rigobert Song or Geremi. The others here are as committed and as important,” he insisted.
Besides, Eto’o said, the team showed a lot of "character" in drawing Tunisia and had kept their promise to reach the quarter-finals. “Even after we lost against Gabon, we said we would make it.”
On the issue of beating Mulumba Ndaye’s 36-year-old record of nine goals in a single tournament, Eto’o agreed he had got off to slow start in his quest. “But I never said I would beat the record. I said I wanted to beat the record. You can’t promise to win a game, but you can want to win a game,” he said on the eve of the quarter-final clash at the Ombaka Stadium. “And I hope I will still have some time to go in this tournament.”
Three-time African Player of the Year Eto’o has scored two goals already, which brings to 17 his total in six Nations Cup tournaments – already one continental record he holds. “But I will work hard, and I will continue to try and reach for the other record.”
But the Cameroon captain admitted that Egypt would present a tough challenge. “They are a team with a lot of experience. There are three, four players (in their side) who have achieved a lot. They are also always well prepared, but I’m confident in the ability of our players and the strategy of our coach for the match.
“The players who will play will know they have to battle. We have to out-run the Egyptians and finally out-score them,” Eto’o added.
The winner of the match will face Algeria, who beat Côte d'Ivoire 3-2 on Sunday. In Monday's other quarter-final Zambia will take on Nigeria in Lubango.