“It’s a question of pride, as an African and a Cameroonian. We must improve our image and not do as we did in 2010, when things turned into a bit of a calamity and we ended up with no points,” Stephane Mbia told FIFA.
Following Cameroon’s 2014 FIFA World Cup™ defeats by Mexico (0-1) and Croatia (0-4), the African nation's players know they will shortly be leaving the tournament and that their results in Brazil are on course to equal those achieved at South Africa 2010. Contrary to four years ago, Les Lions Indomptables have not yet been able to find the net. Certainly, the absence of legendary striker Samuel Eto’o versus Croatia did not help their cause.
“That was a bit of a setback, because he’s an invaluable player for us. He can change the game at any moment and his injury really damaged our chances. But our coach did everything in his power to motivate us. He has tried to unite the group to enable us to get good results even without key players like Eto’o,” said the combative midfield man.
The newfound team spirit was dealt a blow in the 40th minute of their match with Croatia when Alexandre Song was sent off for elbowing Mario Mandzukic. “We were in the process of putting the Croatians under pressure,” recalled Mbia. “We’d only conceded one goal at that stage, and three more then followed in the second half.”
Things went from bad to worse for the CAF representatives, as a heated exchange between Benjamin Moukandjo and Benoit Assou-Ekotto took place at the final whistle. “It was just frustration at how the match had turned out,” said the Yaoundé native philosophically. “They’re not troublemakers; on the contrary, they’re good friends. They’re always having a laugh together,” he added.
Bowing out strongly
“In spite of what people think, we actually have a very unified squad. There’s no internal conflict, no problems,” confirmed the 28-year-old international. “We’re simply disappointed not to have recorded any good results, despite all our hard work and the great things we did in training.”
Did the much-publicised bonus row and ensuing delay have an impact? “You have to be objective and realistic: it did play a role. In a big tournament like the World Cup, you need to respect certain rules, and we ended up inadvertently paying the price for our mistakes, because on the pitch we gave all we had. Nobody wanted to perform badly,” explained Mbia.
One of the few players to get pass marks for Cameroon thus far, Mbia has continued where he left off with Sevilla, with whom he recently secured the UEFA Europa League title. While in Brazil, the former Marseille star has also clearly given some thought to his immediate future at club level.
“I’ve got the greatest respect for Sevilla, but it’ll be difficult to stay, because I’d like to play at the very highest level, and try to win the UEFA Champions League. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I want to achieve big things next season. My dream is to work under Jose Mourinho, as I think he’s a tremendous coach,” he said.
Prior to persuading Chelsea or other major clubs to acquire his services, the tough-tackling defensive midfielder must deal with more pressing issues, such as taking on the host nation on Monday. Keen to leave the tournament on a high, the west Africans are sure to be put to the test against a Brazil side that is anxious to make up for last week’s 0-0 stalemate with Mexico.
Brasilia’s Estadio Nacional could well prove to be a source of inspiration for O País Pentacampeão, who put in an impressive, Neymar-inspired performance at the same venue during the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The daunting prospect does not overly concern Mbia, however. “I’ve already faced great players in La Liga," he pointed out. "What’s important is how we perform as a team, and if we do things right, our individual talents will be able to express themselves. I think it could be a pivotal match. We’ll have to show what we’re capable of, so that we’ll have something to be proud of,” he concluded with confidence.