As the battle for berths at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ intensifies, Cameroon have rediscovered their sparkle and confidence. The Indomitable Lions began Group A with defeat by Togo and a draw with Morocco, results which left them in an unfamiliar position at the foot of the pool. A coaching change swiftly followed as Paul Le Guen took over from Otto Pfister, and the impact was felt immediately.
As September began, Cameroon were facing the prospect of back-to-back fixtures against section leaders Gabon with no margin for error. As it transpired, Le Guen's side recorded two consecutive victories to give their colourful supporters renewed optimism and a belief that their team can still make it to South Africa next year.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, forward Pierre Achille Webo spoke of this dramatic shift in his side's fortunes. "It was very important to turn things around after the start we had, because now qualification is in our own hands," he said.
The Mallorca player, a seasoned international and key figure in recent games, remained cautious, though: "We've worked hard but haven't achieved anything yet, nothing is guaranteed. At the beginning a number of things were not right in the team. Then we realised we'd become lackadaisical and needed to work harder and really strive to win every single game. We could no longer just expect to turn up and win. We learned our lesson and I think that was there for all to see against Gabon."
Webo also recognised the positive impact the new coach has had on the team. "Le Guen is a very professional coach and very knowledgeable when it comes to modern football," he explained. "He knows the players well and has encouraged some of those on the fringes to become more involved and establish themselves within the group. The important thing isn't just that we won against Gabon, but that we played great football too."
Le Guen also took the bold step of passing the captain's armband from Rigobert Song to Samuel Eto'o. "We all have great respect for Rigobert Song, but the coach decided to make Eto'o the new skipper and as a group we accepted this decision, including Rigobert himself. There were no problems, the group is very strong. All personal issues have been laid aside and we are united and determined to achieve our objective, which is to qualify," Webo declared.
Still fresh in the memory of the Cameroon players is the disappointment of the previous campaign, when a missed penalty cost them a place at Germany 2006. Understandably, it is not something they are keen to experience again.
"That failure was felt throughout the country, and now the entire nation is excited about going to South Africa next year," said Webo. "We're very conscious of what we're playing for. You have six games in the final qualification phase, so whoever goes through will have done so on merit."
The 27-year-old also believes the first FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil will be a historic occasion, and one nobody will want to miss out on. "South Africa 2010 will be a very special competition," he said.
"We Africans are thrilled because it will be a great festival and people will get to know the real Africa, beyond the scenes of starvation and war on their televisions. There is so much more to this continent, it's a fantastic place. The people are going to change how Africa is perceived throughout the world."
Webo left Cameroon for Uruguay at the age of 18, to play for Nacional of Montevideo, and has spent the last seven years in Spain. With regard to the continuing exodus of talented young players to Europe and elsewhere, Webo had this to say: "Africa is still underdeveloped and the standard of living is quite low, so people often have to seek a life elsewhere.
"There is little investment in football and so many footballers have to go abroad in order to progress. Of course, this means that the domestic competition isn't very strong, but with further development and social advancement, footballers wouldn't leave in such large numbers."
After spells with Leganes and Osasuna, the forward has spent the last two years struggling to break into the Real Mallorca team. "I'm not playing every week at my club, but I'm working very hard to take full advantage when the coach gives me an opportunity to establish myself," he said.
"Personally, it's not easy but I'm excited about this season and I hope to play as many games as possible so as to keep my place in the national team. With Cameroon I feel very important and respected, and that gives me strength."
Before the World Cup comes around there is also the prospect of playing in the CAF African Cup of Nations in Angola. "It's a competition taken very seriously in my country," Webo continued. "Doing well in the African Cup of Nations prepares you for the World Cup; it's like a curtain raiser. We're hoping to do well but we're taking it step by step with our feet firmly on the ground."
"Not all footballers are lucky enough to get the opportunity to play in a World Cup, so I'm going to do everything I can to stay in the team and to try to qualify. That way I can do my best to bring some happiness to the people of Cameroon." If the determination of this Indomitable Lion is anything to go by, he is on course to fulfil his ambitions.