Cameroon at AFCON 2015
At the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), like at any major soccer tournament, it's not just teams competing for glory but also their coaches. Among them is Cameroon's coach, Volker Finke from Germany. He is now something of a hero in Cameroon following radical changes he made to the national team "The Indomitable Lions" after their disappointing performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Finke took the drastic step of not picking 80 percent of the old squad, including striker Samuel Eto'o – a move that led to protests in the country. Other big names not on the list this time are Alex Song and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
But it seems that Finke's rejuvenation project is paying off as Cameroon qualified for this year's AFCON without conceding a single game.
New bonus deal
Finke said he had also changed the rules on bonuses for players, with the approval of the Cameroonian authorities. Previously, players were given participation bonuses simply for taking part in the final phase of prestigious tournaments such as AFCON. Finke said this was unjust as it meant players who had helped their team qualify but who could not take part in the final phase went unrewarded. Players will now receive qualification bonuses, calculated on the number of matches each player played during the qualifiers.
This should help avoid the rows between players and management that marred the team's performance in Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In an interview with DW, Finke recalled that difficult time.
"Just after the World Cup, it was a really difficult situation and this was a reason to make a [fresh start] with the team, that means bringing together new, young players. It is also work for the future, not only job for now, but also for the next two or three years."
The list of 23 players he has called up for AFCON include only eight of those who participated in Brazil. Finke says there are lots of advantages to having young players.
"A young player is learning. In fact if you never start with young players, then you will never have good players."
This time round coach Finke has called up little known goalkeepers Pierre Sylvain Abogo (Tonnerre Yaounde), Guy Ndy Assembe (AS Nancy), as well as Fabrice Ongoua (Barcelona). He also picked Cedric Djeugoue from Cameroon's regional league and Clinton Njie. Finke says he has great faith in his new team who ended in top place in Group D of the qualifiers, following a six-match unbeaten run.
Finke says he plans to take the tournament one stage at a time and not set his hopes too high. "If you go to the final tournament of Africa, it is open. It is true that Algeria played the best World Cup of all African teams. But there are also other teams and our first goal is to go to the second round. The most important thing for us is to prepare the first game, then we see what is going on and prepare the second game and so on and so on."
Support for Finke's strategy
Midfielder Enow Tarkang, who Finke downgraded from the position of deputy captain, said he is satisfied with the changes and that they had strengthened the team spirit.
"Our objective is much more for the team," he said. "My objective to give more than a hundred percent so that we can get the first results. As long as the team is doing well I think my personal objective is in line with it."
Cameroon played a one-all friendly against South Africa last weekend. The Bafana Bafana coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba was impresssed by the Lions' strength. He said their new found unity makes them a team to watch out for in Equatorial Guinea.
Lions' fan John Paul Beri says there is a noticeable difference in the national team's style of play. "There is liberty, there is a new thing happening, there is zeal and I hope that they can make it," he told DW.
Senior Cameroonian football official Wongibe Cyprain says Finke still has to put some finishing touches to the new team and that it is too early to judge them since so many different players have been tried out. But he said he was confident that Finke would do what was needed.
It's not only Cameroonians who are counting on the Indomitable Lions to make them proud with a winning performance in Equatorial Guinea. Mulumsi Christopher from neighboring Central African Republic also supports the Lions "because they are Africa. We want the trophy here in Central Africa."
After the opening game against Mali, in the first round Group D games Cameroon will also play host nation Equatorial Guinea, Mali and Ivory Coast, whose internationally renowned midfielder Yaya Toure has just been voted African Player of the Year.