In exactly two days time (Sunday, November 17 2013), Cameroon will host Tunisia for the return leg final qualifying match for next year’s Brazil world Cup. Both teams played a lackluster goalless draw during the away leg at the Rades stadium in Tunisia but if Cameroon wants to qualify for a record seventh world cup participation, they will have to raise their game during next Sunday’s match when they play in front of their often rowdy and noisy supporters.
The Tunisian national team (Eagles of Carthage) will not be giving the Lions an easy ticket as they too would like to qualify for the final rounds of the FIFA world cup for the fifth time. Like Cameroon that became the first African team to qualify for the quarter finals of the world cup, the Tunisian national team also has its own proud world cup footnote; during their first participation in 1978 in Argentina, they became the first African team to win a world cup match when they defeated Mexico 3-1.They have however, never progressed beyond the first round of the tournament.
Whatever happens on Sunday, the 90 minutes or any extra time that might be added if the teams draw might be the defining moment in the international career of the most visible player on the Cameroonian side; attacker Samuel Eto’o Fils. The 32 year old footballer was until recently the highest paid footballer on earth when he played for Russian premier league team Anzhi Makhachkala owned by a Russian Billionaire. He became the second highest paid sportsman on earth with a stratospheric salary of –wait for it; $54 million per year. Only golfer Tiger Woods was paid more than him.
Eto’o now plays for English premier league title contenders Chelsea after playing for some of the biggest teams on earth including Barcelona, Mallorca and Inter Milan.
Though he has won several league cups with his European clubs, he has had a less successful career with the Lions of Cameroon since he first wore the national team jersey as a young, fresh faced unknown youngster in 1997. He was part of the Cameroon 2000 team that lifted Gold at the Sydney Olympics . He has participated in three world cups with the Lions and won the African nations Cup with the team twice. Though he is still the most capped Cameroonian player (113) and with 18 goals is the best all time scorer at the nations Cup finals, he has been more successful with his European teams than with the Lions of Cameroon.
Eto Fils is now the team captain but is also a very divisive figure. Part of the reason his name now provokes such high emotion among football lovers in the country (from religious support for his talents to violent opposition to his continuous selection in the team) is that he has consistently challenged the incompetence and sheer “amateurism” of football management in Cameroon. He has been unrepentant in his condemnation of the corruption and failure to invest in football infrastructure across the country. Football governing body (FECAFOOT) officials pay little attention to developing youth football across the country and in an interview with a foreign TV station, Eto’o lamented; “I am still playing football on the same pitches I did when i started playing for the Lions 16 years ago. The same people are still managing football in the country”.
FIFA had to step in and even suspended Cameroon from all international competitions after the detained former president of FECAFOOT Iya Mohammed managed to win elections behind the safety of the Kondengui maximum security prison where he is facing charges of embezzling state funds. Mr Mohammed has been FECAFOOT president for the past fifteen years. President Biya has had to step in twice to ask Eto’o Fils to play for country after he boycotted playing for the team because of the problems he has with football officials.
If Cameroon qualifies for Brazil 2014, Eto’o Fils will play for a record fourth time during the final rounds of a world cup and that will hopefully draw the curtain to his international career. If Cameroon does not qualify, Sunday November 17 2013 will definitely be the last time he will be wearing a Cameroonian jersey to defend the national colours.
His supporters will praise him and continue to support him in his club career. His detractors might have just short message for Eto’o Fils-good riddance.
Whatever the outcome of Sundays match, Cameroonian football has been the better because of Samuel Eto’o Fils