Revived Lions ready to roar
It is an almost surreal scene. While Joel Epalle, Stephane Mbia and Carlos Idriss Kameni make good use of their hotel's swimming pool, Samuel Eto'o is acting as team bodyguard. "Think of this as a training session and please leave us alone for a few minutes," requests the Indomitable Lions striker, hoping to keep gatecrashers at a distance. Since qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final on Thursday, Cameroon's temporary home has virtually been under siege.
It all adds to the growing sense of occasion, but the side's German coach Otto Pfister has opted to give his players as much freedom as possible. The four-time African champions will therefore walk out to contest their sixth final in as relaxed a frame of mind as possible.
"That's been great for us," says Geremi, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. "We went in to the semi-final under immense pressure. Taking on the hosts in front of their own fans and in their capital was hardly ideal as conditions go. But we were able to stay calm and get the win."
The Newcastle United player even admits to feeling small as he stepped on to the Ohen Djan stadium pitch to be swamped by the deafening noise emanating from the stands. His team-mate Kameni can certainly relate. "That semi-final was more of a psychological ordeal than a physical one," explains the goalkeeper. "The day before the game, a lot of us lost our appetite because we were so concentrated. We can be proud of what we achieved. We were 11 united lions when we beat the Black Stars."
'I hope we can finish on a high'
That unwavering solidarity has doubtless sprung from Cameroon's taxing route to the final. "We started very badly, which was surely due to how little time we had to prepare," says Geremi. "But we've been improving match by match. With the coach's help, we've made a point of addressing even the slightest of details after each encounter. Against Ghana, we played almost the perfect game. My hope now is that we can finish on a high on Sunday."
"We've been through some very difficult moments in this competition," adds Kameni. "To lose our opening game really affected us. All of a sudden we were classed as outsiders, after having barely heard any of the criticisms we got following our arrival here. After that match against Egypt (4-2), we all met up. I'll always remember it. We swore we wouldn't leave Ghana until we'd lifted our heads up high again."
The Espanyol shot-stopper is certainly qualified to talk about difficult moments, having probably known more than the rest of the squad. Sometimes exposed by his defence, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist and 2002 CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner bears no ill will, however. "It's true that I've felt alone from time to time," he says with a grin. "But that's football. I know my team-mates don't do it on purpose. Now and then I've had to dig deep to save the day and I'm happy to have been up to the task." Against Ghana in the semi-final especially, the Cameroonian defence began to look like a brick wall.
Revenge on the menu
That newfound defensive solidity could not have come at a better time either, given Egypt's four-goal display against Côte d'Ivoire in their last outing. "We'll have to give everything and hold nothing back," says Geremi. "I hope more than anything that it will be a great match. We know our opponents by heart so it shouldn't come down to a minor detail. It's simple: the best team will win. I really hope we'll be taking the trophy back to Cameroon."
Given the history between the two sides, Sunday's showdown is about revenge too. "Playing Egypt won't just remind me about our opening loss in this tournament," explains the former Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder. "I also remember them as the team that denied us a place at the 2006 World Cup. I've got a lot of respect for them. They're a very good side and they haven't put a foot wrong so far, but this is a final and above all it's a chance for us to take revenge."
All the ingredients seem to be in place for an explosive game. "We want to leave Ghana with our heads held high and the only way we can do that is with the trophy in our hands." Egypt ought to expect a real struggle to retain their trophy.