By Mark Gleeson
(Reuters) - Cameroon return to the World Cup finals for the seventh time with one of the world’s most successful players in their ranks, but their prospects of progress past the first round look slim with group matches against hosts Brazil, Croatia and Mexico.
Their 2014 squad has little of the charisma of previous teams who won worldwide affection with their dogged style and colourful kit.
Cameroon won only half of the eight games they needed to qualify for Brazil, benefiting along the way from group rivals Togo using an ineligible player in a match in which they beat Cameroon but then had the points reversed.
It was only at the end of the preliminaries last November that Cameroon, who had squeezed through the group stage, showed any form, beating Tunisia 4-1 in their decisive qualifier to win a playoff for a place at the finals in Brazil.
Since then Cameroon have been beaten 5-1 in a friendly in March by Portugal, creating a new polemic in a country that seems to thrive on never-ending crisis.
The Cameroon Football Federation is being run by a FIFA-appointed committee after disputed elections and the jailing of its previous president, while a new constitution and elections are arranged.
Their German coach Volker Finke remains under a constant barrage of criticism despite adding some obvious structure to the side. Among his fiercest critics is former World Cup hero Roger Milla who feels a local coach should be in charge.
He was in the Indomitable Lions team in 1982 when they made their World Cup debuts, holding eventual champions Italy, third-placed finishers Poland and Peru to draws in their opening group matches in Spain, and again in 1990 when Cameroon were the first African side to reach the quarter-finals.
Captain Samuel Eto’o, who has won three Champions League titles and league honours in Spain and Italy, will compete in a fourth World Cup as captain of a team he has been accused of dividing.
Their 2010 finals appearance, where they lost all three group games, was beset with personality problems, notably between Eto’o and the midfielder Alexandre Song.
Song did not play for Cameroon for some 18 months after the World Cup because of the bust-up, but Finke has suggested much of the antagonism has since been put to bed.
They head to Brazil with a tough task ahead of them and although many of their players have experience at the highest level in the major European leagues, success in South America looks a step too far.