Cameroon's lions may not have seemed quite so indomitable of late, but after spreading joy throughout the nation on Friday, they have clearly not been fully tamed either. Impressive in a 4-1 win against Tunisia in their ageing Yaounde home stadium, Cameroon booked themselves a spot in their seventh FIFA World Cup™ finals and set a new record for an African side in the process.
Veteran Jean II Makoun weighed in with a double after two goals in the opening half-hour as the team's German coach Volker Finke celebrated his third victory since taking over in May. The Indomitable Lions' seventh man in charge since 2007, Finke's task has been to get the erstwhile giants firing again after several years of under-achievement.
For Patrick Mboma, however, he still has a long way to go. "Possibly we're not seeing the wood for the trees because of this qualification," the former Cameroon captain explained to FIFA.com.
An Olympic champion in 2000 and two-time CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner in 2000 and 2002, Mboma remains critical of long-term ills within the national team set-up, despite Cameroon reaching Brazil 2014 with a record of five wins, two draws and a defeat.
"For years now, the Lions' old aura has made it possible to convey this obsolete idea of us being a leading nation in African football and an example to follow," said the player voted African Footballer of the Year in 2000. "But people are fed up and it's no longer possible to deceive them. People have had enough and, even two or three weeks ago, many were saying it would be better if we didn't go to the World Cup."
"Of course, on the day of the game there wasn't a single Cameroonian who wasn't fully behind the team, with me first in line," added the retired forward, who finished top scorer in Japan's J-League in 1997. "But I'm under no illusions and I don't expect us to do anything at the World Cup.
"A surprise like we pulled off in 1990 won't be possible. Yes, I wanted us to go through, but for the happiness of 20 million people and the 23 athletes who've been dreaming about it – not because I'm expecting anything when we're there."
Samuel Eto'o and Co nonetheless dominated Group I, collecting 13 points and scoring eight goals while conceding just three. They may not have had to test their mettle against any of the continent's traditional powers, facing Togo, Congo DR and Libya – the only north African nation never to grace the World Cup stage – but they went about their task with inarguable assuredness.
I wanted us to go through, but for the happiness of 20 million people and the 23 athletes who've been dreaming about it – not because I'm expecting anything when we're there.
Securing a place in Brazil has helped make up for failing to qualify for the last two editions of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, yet Mboma still feels those absences were "deserved" and that the same problems remain.
"We're lucky enough to have a limitless reservoir of talent, so we always manage to produce players," he said, himself the top scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2002 and 2004. "Look at the current team, though. There's no one to play at right-back or to run up and down that flank in a 3-5-2, so the play always goes down the left.
"In attack, some young players have come in, but they're only just emerging and I'm not sure they'll be able to properly take over from previous generations. We have eight defensive midfielders but no one to create moves and provide passes. Because of that, Alexandre Song often ends up having to do it, and that's not normal."
Hard realismLike many of his fellow former internationals, Mboma believes the fault lies with a lack of professionalism within Cameroonian football and is pushing for wide-ranging structural changes. "What happened after 2006, when the Lions missed out on the World Cup?" he said. "What happened after 2010, when we only managed to salvage a place right at the end despite being in a pretty straightforward group?
"We have to stop believing in Santa Claus. Even if we hadn't qualified, nothing would have changed. Cameroon haven't done anything to light up African football since the final of the Confederations Cup in 2003. In the World Cup, we've only reached the quarter-finals once, so when I hear people say that a World Cup without Cameroon would be a shame, I say: 'But what will Cameroon being there actually add?'"
Moreover, Mboma is concerned that the controversies plaguing the Indomitable Lions on a daily basis prevent the players from focusing on their goals. For the moment, however, Finke appears to be the right man for the job, and the unifying force needed in the dressing room. The question now is whether he can get Cameroon back striking fear into the rest of Africa.
"I'll say it again, the problem is structural," explained Mboma. "It's impossible to try to duplicate what happens in the European leagues or in Japan. If you only have wood, you make a wooden table. We need to adapt the knowhow that myself and other players picked up in various different countries to our own situation."
The mood in the country remains euphoric after Cameroon sewed up their World Cup berth, but Mboma's message could not be clearer as the Indomitable Lions begin to switch their focus to Brazil. They now have seven months to address their issues and prove their legendary predecessor wrong.