Cameroon could do reasonably well at the World Cup — if Samuel Eto'o doesn't blow a fuse first.
The Inter Milan forward, Cameroon's star of the present, is catching some flak from Roger Milla, its star of the past.
The hero of Cameroon's unlikely run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup reckons that Eto'o hasn't been giving his all to the national squad and he isn't afraid to say so.
But Eto'o isn't having any of it — meaning that both of them are acting more like angry lions than indomitable ones with Cameroon's opening match against Japan less than three weeks away.
Exactly what Milla hopes to achieve by needling Eto'o now, so close to the World Cup, isn't exactly clear.
It's not as if Eto'o doesn't already have enough to worry about: As the squad's big-name star, his narrow shoulders are carrying a lot of the expectation from a nation that takes its football very seriously, so seriously that Milla warns of possible unrest, even civil war in Cameroon if results go against them on the fields of South Africa.
But Milla doesn't seem ready to let Eto'o dwell any longer on the high of having won the Champions League last weekend with Inter, adding to the one he won a year earlier with Barcelona.
Cameroon expects, Milla says, and Eto'o must deliver.
"I have a right to criticize things that aren't going well in the country, in my national team, because I fought for this team to be where it is today. If I can't criticize it then I don't know who can," said Milla.
He famously came off the bench to score twice against Romania and then scored another two in extra time against Colombia to lift Cameroon into the quarters in 1990 - the first African country to get that far.
Calling Eto'o out
Milla's basic gripe with Eto'o is that he hasn't been as decisive for Cameroon as he has for Barcelona and Inter - in other words, seemingly, that he hasn't "done a Milla" and single-handedly stolen the show. Milla says Eto'o hasn't given enough to the national squad, ignoring the fact that Eto'o has been averaging about one goal every two matches.
Milla also suggests that Eto'o needs better discipline — "Now that he is captain, Samuel has to give a good example," he said — and argues that he shouldn't be taking corners and throw-ins but focusing more on his goal-scoring duties.
"For me, for the moment, Samuel still hasn't brought anything to our national team," Milla said on Friday, talking to a small group of reporters at a hotel north of Paris. "The people of Cameroon expect a lot of him at this World Cup, that he show his true face as he did at Barcelona or as he just did at Inter Milan."
Told of Milla's comments, Eto'o bristled.
"I won't reply," he said before changing his mind and reeling off a list of his achievements. Such criticism on the eve of competition is "unhealthy," Eto'o said.
"I'm the best goal-scorer in the history of the African Cup," he said. "I've won the African Cup, I've won an Olympic gold medal. That says everything."
"Look at how many Champions Leagues I have … Look!"
"Everything God gives me, I take and he's given enormously during my career. A lot more than to some others and they must respect that and shut up, really shut up, because playing a quarter-final of the World Cup is not winning the World Cup," he said, a clear swipe at Cameroon's class of 1990 that included Milla.
That was Cameroon's sole quarterfinal appearance. It didn't get out of the group stages in 1994, '98, and 2002 and missed Germany 2006.
But its chances look better this time. In its Group E, Netherlands are the favourites but Denmark and Japan could be within Cameroon's reach.
If Cameroon qualifies second of the group, it seems likely to play Italy in the next round.