BLOEMFONTEIN // After shrugging off criticism from Roger Milla, Samuel Eto'o will get his first chance today against a struggling Japan team to prove that he can produce his best football for Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions' preparations have been overshadowed by a nasty spat between Eto'o and Milla, the Cameroon great who questioned the Inter Milan striker's performances for the national team.
Eto'o, who is Cameroon's all-time leading international scorer with 42 goals, threatened he would miss the competition, but decided the first World Cup in Africa was too important. And he has the full support of Paul Le Guen, Cameroon's French coach. "He is my captain, a great player, one of the best players in the world and he wants to do well," said Le Guen, adding that Eto'o "is fit, he is ready to fight and be a good captain for us during this World Cup."
Eto'o did not lead from the front in the recent warm-up matches. After getting sent off in the 3-1 loss to Portugal for picking up a second booking, his missed the 4-3 loss to Serbia. Those two losses and three draws mean Cameroon have not registered a win in five matches, despite a glut of talent including Alex Song, the Arsenal midfielder, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong, the Tottenham defenders, and Pierre Webo, who players for Real Mallorca in Spain.
Against Japan, Le Guen has plenty of offensive firepower, but is wary of a fast Japanese attack against his defensive line that has leaked seven goals in the last two matches. "I have watched many videos of Japanese football over and over, and I know their strongest weapon is that they have very swift attackers," Le Guen said. "We've worked very hard to deal with that and as concerns Monday's match, I'm full of confidence."
While Cameroon's form has not been outstanding, Japan's has been worse. The Japanese have had four consecutive losses in the run up to the tournament, scoring just one goal in that stretch as Takeshi Okada, their coach, has consistently tinkered with his line-up in a bid to find the best balance. Okada downplayed concerns over his team's recent scoring troubles, saying "goals are always an issue for every team". He also brushed aside criticism that his squad is too defensive-minded, and promised Japan would not sit back against Cameroon.
"I never told them [the players] to concentrate on defence against Cameroon - I never said that," Okada said. "We are not focusing only on defence, we will be very pro-active and positive in the attack as well." While Le Guen is worried about Japan's pace up front, Junichi Inamoto, the experienced Japan midfielder, said the Asian side were sure to keep an eye on Eto'o. But Inamoto stressed Japan did not have the luxury of being able to just focus on one player.
"Cameroon has a lot of good players, not only Eto'o - there's Song, there's Webo - they're good attacking players, fast and physical, and so we have to protect good and after that we have to take the ball and have a good counter [attack]," Inamoto said. * AP