Despite losing their last two pre-tournament friendlies while testing highly experimental lineups, Cameroon look like a team that is finding itself at just the right time.
The Netherlands are the undisputed heavyweights of the group and a fashionable dark horse pick to take home the World Cup trophy. Not only were they penciled into the second round as soon as the group stage draw was announced, but most people picked them to win Group E going away.
Here are the five things the Indomitable Lions must do to buck conventional wisdom, rewrite a decade of mediocrity, and rise to the top of Le Group Eclectique.
Many squads have lost key players due to injury (Group E rivals the Netherlands and Denmark are prominent on that list), while Cameroon have not only remained relatively injury free, but also appear to be in great shape as they prepare for their opening match against Japan.
The Dutch have suffered a major blow with the loss of Arjen Robben, though their stacked attacking front will not suffer overmuch from the loss of the speedy Bayern Munich winger.
Denmark and Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner is coming off a thigh injury and, at least as of Monday, was expected to miss Denmark's opener against Holland. He joins stud central defender Simon Kjaer and fellow Premiership star goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen on the "doubtful or less than 100 percent" list for Morten Olsen's Eleven.
Cameroon's defensive midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba will not be missed too much, as few teams in the tournament are deeper at CDM than the Indomitable Lions. Young striker Jacques Zoua was dropped from the 30-man roster due to an early injury, but other than those two, Cameroon are raring to go.
The Lions should already be better acclimated to the variegated South African environment than the Danes and Dutch, who are used to low altitudes and Northern European climes, or the Japanese, who have never won a World Cup match outside of their homeland.
If Cameroon can maintain their high spirits and collective fitness, it may prove a major advantage down the stretch.
Carlos Kameni is one of the most impressive shot-stoppers in the tournament. He also has a tremendous résumé of success with his club side, RCD Espanyol. However, anyone who watched his gaffe-prone ways at the African Cup of Nations this winter knows the dark side of the 26-year-old veteran.
He has a tendency, which he demonstrated disastrously in the African Cup of Nations, to be inconsistent on simple positioning plays or coming off his line to defend his six-yard box on crosses and corners.
Backup 'keeper Souleymanou Hamidou has a similar track record of inconsistency, which he has demonstrated in the run-up to the World Cup. Though the defensive lineups were constantly in flux, Hamidou allowed soft, inexcusable goals to Portugal and Serbia in Cameroon's last two friendlies.
Cameroon certainly have strong goalkeeping, the most experienced in the group, but they must avoid the morale-killing pitfall of giving goals away if they are to beat the teams they should beat and keep the Netherlands match close enough to win.
Cameroon's offensive-minded fullbacks have had remarkable success down the wings in recent friendlies, but their eagerness to push forward has often led to poor communication with the center backs and mayhem in front of goal.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto is a lock at left back, and whether it's Georges Mandjeck, Stephane Mbia, or the veteran Geremi at right back, these wing defenders must hold a consistent line with the center backs in order to prevent the crossing opportunities and missed marking assignments that sank them in their latest friendlies.
Cameroon have an enviable array of defensive talent. However, they must balance the need to support the attack with the discipline to stay behind the ball and form a compact unit on defense.
Most of the goals they've conceded in recent weeks have come from lapses of discipline. If they concentrate and play up to their potential, they can blank most teams and hang with powerhouses like the Netherlands.
Through the years, many great attacking partners at the club and international level have worn the numbers 9 and 10 in tandem. If Cameroon are to make a run at the 2010 World Cup, the dynamic duo of Samuel Eto'o and Achille Emana [pictured] will have to step up as one of the great one-two punches in the history of the World Cup.
Eto'o will be one of the four or five best strikers in the tournament, but his cerebral, predatory game is predicated on being fed the ball in advantageous positions.
Emana is no slouch. Being Cameroon's only great playmaker, he often drifts out of relevance when opponents focus on shutting him out. Given enough space, however, he combines quick, accurate passing with a deadly accurate finishing touch of his own.
Emana has a knack for scoring important goals in clutch situations, but he's at his best when setting up strikers like Eto'o. The Lions' two best offensive talents have been playing together for years, which has enabled each to anticipate the other's moves and tendencies.
Emana and Eto'o are key to Cameroon's success. On their game, they form a world-class attacking partnership, but if forced to play by themselves, opposing defenses can smother them.
It will take strong supporting play from the likes of Jean Makoun, Alex Song, and Eyong Enoh, as well as a serious secondary attacking threat, to give Emana and Eto'o room to work their magic.
Manager Paul Le Guen has found a potent offensive threat in the deadly crossing of full backs Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Georges Mandjeck, and Geremi, combined with the aerial prowess of Pierre Webo, 6'3" Eric Choupo-Moting, and 6'3" Mohammadou Idrissou.
Assou-Ekotto [pictured] has three assists in Cameroon's last three matches—all left-footed crosses that were headed home—against World Cup teams Slovakia, Portugal, and Serbia; Webo has scored three aerial goals in Cameroon's last two matches; and on Saturday Choupo-Moting earned his first international goal in only his second capped appearance on a 67th minute header off a cross from Geremi.
This high-flying attack is just the secondary offensive weapon Cameroon have lacked in recent seasons, one which they must make opponents fear in order to keep defenders honest and prevent Emana and Eto'o from being swarmed into irrelevance.
Serious threats from both wings, creative play from Emana, and the peerless combination of speed and weaving runs Eto'o brings to the table will make Cameroon next to impossible to keep off the scoreboard for 90 minutes.
Can the full backs get involved in the offense without creating dangerous counterattacking opportunities? Can Emana and Eto'o find space to work their magic in the middle of the pitch? Can goalkeepers Carlos Kameni and Souleymanou Hamidou avoid careless mistakes? Can the back four avoid lapses in discipline?
The emotional lift Cameroon will feel by playing in Africa and the sympathetic crowds that are likely to greet them at every venue convince me that Cameroon are as likely to avoid careless errors and lapses of discipline at this World Cup as any time and in any competition.
If they can play consistently, then their talent level alone is enough to ride into the second round. If they not only avoid mistakes, but also come together as a team and become more than the sum of their parts, then they will be a dangerous out for any team they come up against.
Should they beat the Netherlands? Match-up by match-up the Oranje should have the upper hand, but this is Africa, and all bets are off.
The Dutch will be without one of their best players. Their central defense is old and suspect. They are prone to infighting and backbiting, and they are far from home. They will be forced to answer for these flaws at some point in the tournament.
All this isn't enough for me to pick Cameroon over the Dutch on June 24, but I'll still go out on a limb and say Cameroon can manage a 2-2 draw.