Cameroon at the World Cup: The 10 Greatest Indomitable Lions of All Time
The history of Indomitable Lions football is best understood as a succession of generations, each with its own memorable records and significant accomplishments.
The first great generation to rise to international prominence featured the likes of Thomas Nkono, Roger Milla, Theophile Abega, and Jean Manga-Oguene.
This was the group that won the African Cup of Nations in 1984 and made waves at the 1982 World Cup by almost beating out eventual champions Italy for a spot in the second round. Every great Cameroonian footballer of the last 25 years has stood on the shoulders of these giants.
The next great Indomitable Lions generation won the 1988 African Cup of Nations, made the quarterfinal of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and competed again four years later in 1994 with players like François Omam-Biyik, Emmanuel Kunde, and Joseph-Antoine Bell, while still featuring the immortal Roger Milla.
The third memorable generation of Cameroon international footballers, several of whom will make the trip to South Africa this summer, won gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics, won the African Nations Cup in 2000 and 2002, and participated memorably in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. This group includes Rigobert Song, Geremi Njitap, Patrick Mboma, and wunderkinder turned old warhorses Samuel Eto'o and Idriss Carlos Kameni.
Though the current, promising crop of young Lions does not include any players that have made my top ten Cameroonian internationals of all time, several of them may deserve serious consideration if Cameroon can make a decent run at the Finals this summer.
Lastly, before proceeding to the actual list, I'd like to humbly offer a dedication to a fallen Lion who very well could have been among the top names on the list had his career not been tragically cut short in 2003.
In memory of Marc-Vivien Foé, may the Lions' first trip to the World Cup since his passing provide a fitting testament to his indomitable spirit.
10. Geremi Njitap
The versatile wing defender and midfielder, along with Samuel Eto'o and Carlos Kameni, is still one of the best-known Cameroonian players in Europe, despite his current Turkish obscurity.
Geremi, who played in England for most of the last decade, twice won la Liga with Real Madrid and won the Premiership with Chelsea in 2006.
His national team experience measures up to his European success, as he is officially one of the most capped Indomitable Lions of all time. With over 100 national team appearances, three starts at the 2002 World Cup, two African Cup of Nations wins, and an Olympic gold medal, it is not surprising that the 31-year-old is competing with players several years younger for a starting spot in South Africa.
9. Idriss Carlos Kameni
Carlos Kameni, at the age of 26, still has several years in front of him to move further up this goalkeeper-heavy list.
Kameni showed remarkable polish and maturity at a young age, earning him a spot on the senior international roster as a 17-year-old. He has already made almost 200 appearances for club side RCD Espanyol, where he has followed in the footsteps of legendary Cameroonian international 'keeper Thomas Nkono, even surpassing Nkono's record with 497 straight shutout minutes.
With a talented stable of young defenders and midfielders in front of him this summer, Kameni will look to provide a dependable defensive foundation for the high-octane Cameroon attack.
8. Joseph-Antoine Bell
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Bell backed up legendary goalkeeper Thomas Nkono on the famous 1982 and 1990 World Cup squads, as well as on the champion '84 and '88 African Cup of Nations rosters.
It was Bell who had the last laugh in 1999, however, as he was voted 'Best African Goalkeeper of the Century' by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. Nkono, for once, came in second.
7. François Omam-Biyik
Omam-Biyik will forever be remembered for scoring the winning goal against Argentina in the 1-0 victory that inaugurated the 1990 World Cup and ignited Cameroon's famous quarterfinal run.
Omam-Biyik, who enjoys dual Cameroonian and French citizenship, played seven successful seasons throughout France before moving to Mexico's legendary Primera Division side, Club América. In three season at the Azteca, he put his size and aerial ability to good use, scoring a dumbfounding 49 goals in 75 appearances.
For the national team, Omam-Biyik was one of the most dependable players of the 1990s, playing in all three World Cups in that decade and tallying 63 caps. Though he only score two World Cup goals, he will forever be remembered as one of the greatest strikers on a succession of exciting, offensive-minded Cameroon squads.
6. Rigobert Song
Though not quite old enough to collect a pension, the gigantic Song is the grandfather of the 2010 Indomitable Lions, having already played in three World Cups since 1994. At 33, Song is officially the most capped player in Cameroonian football history, with over 130 appearances for the national team.
He is also in the record book alongside Zinedine Zidane as one of only two players to earn a red card in two different World Cups, perhaps belying the truism that wisdom accompanies age.
His near-certain inclusion in the final World Cup roster for 2010 is a matter of great controversy, but what cannot be debated is his standing in the annals of Cameroonian football.
5. Patrick Mboma
Any Indomitable Lion who has scored more international goals than the great Roger Milla deserves a distinguished place on this list, and world traveler Patrick Mboma did just that over the course of his ten year international career.
Though he has played for ten different clubs in five different countries on three different continents (including three separate stints with Paris Saint-Germain!), Mboma was remarkably consistent in representing his country.
Named 2000 African Footballer of the Year, he scored 33 goals in 56 international matches, appeared for Cameroon in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and won gold with the Lions at the 2000 Olympics and the 2000 and 2002 African Nations Cups.
4. Théophile Abega
Théophile "the Doctor" Abega was one of the trailblazers of Cameroonian football.
One of the greatest African midfielders of all time, the clinical Abega possessed superb technique and a visionary presence in the middle of the pitch. He led the legendary Canon Yaounde clubs of the mid and late '70s that did so much to set the stage for the 1980s golden years.
Abega marshaled the impressive 1982 World Cup team and captained Cameroon to their first African Nations Cup victory in 1984, winning African Footballer of the Year honors for his performance.
Though he only enjoyed two brief professional stints in Europe at the end of his career, he helped put Cameroonian football on the map, making it possible for later generations of players to move to Europe and make millions.
3. Samuel Eto'o
Samuel Eto'o is the most prolific goal-scorer in the history of Cameroon football, as well as being by far Cameroon's most high-profile European talent.
Eto'o is also Cameroon's most decorated player: three time African player of the year, best forward of the 2006 Champions League campaign, a member of the World XI and UEFA XI in 2005 and 2006; he is also the all-time top scorer at the African Cup of Nations and former club side RCD Mallorca.
Over the weekend he won his third Champions League title, this time with Inter Milan instead of Barcelona, and at 29, the headstrong Indomitable Lions captain will be looking to lead his national side out of the first round of the World Cup this summer for the first time since he was nine years old.
2. Thomas Nkono
One of the first Cameroonian players to find success in Europe, Thomas Nkono was the starting goalkeeper at RCD Espanyol for almost a decade from 1982-1991.
Over that time, he tended the Indomitable Lions' net throughout their greatest period of international success, including the 1982 World Cup, where he only allowed one goal, and the 1990 World Cup, where it took two late penalties for England to beat him in the quarterfinal.
The first goalkeeper to ever win African player of the year honors back in 1979 and the interim manager of the national team in 2009, Nkono has been a part of Cameroon football for over three decades.
Perhaps the greatest testament to his legacy comes from the great Italian 'keeper Gianluigi Buffon, who claims that he was inspired to become a goalkeeper after watching Nkono at the 1990 World Cup. Buffon also named his son Thomas in honor of the great Cameroonian.
1. Roger Milla
Runner up to George Weah of Liberia for African footballer of the century, no player casts a longer shadow in the history of Cameroonian football than Roger Milla, whose larger than life personality, winning smile, and legendary exploits at the 1990 World Cup make him the greatest Cameroonian footballer of all time.
He was the first Cameroonian to win African footballer of the year in 1976, but he won the award again in 1990 at the age of 38. Milla's five career World Cup goals for Cameroon are as many as the next three highest scorers combined. His corner flag samba reinvented the art of the goal celebration.
He, more than any other player, led the Indomitable Lions on their magical 1990 run, and though he, like Théophile Abega, spent many of his most productive years playing in Africa, he paved the way for generations of talented young Cameroonians to earn recognition in Europe by spending over a decade plying his trade in France.
Milla's legend transcends football, inspiring art, music, and advertising campaigns the world over.
There have been very few players who have overshadowed the sport in the same way as Milla, and it will take a truly larger-than-life figure to supplant him as the greatest Cameroonian footballer of all time.