It’s hard to imagine a side whose appearance in South Africa is being met with less public anticipation than Japan. Performances lately have been woeful, including a 3-1 defeat to deadly rivals South Korea and a 3-0 loss to a Serbia side that boasted just eight previous caps between the players in the starting line-up. Discerning Cameroon supporters see a squad with players way past their prime, specifically their former captain and most capped player, Rigobert Song, and Geremi. Since his appointment last year, coach Paul Le Guen has tried to reinvigorate the side, first by stripping Song of the captaincy and appointing Samuel Eto’o in his place. Le Guen has brought in several young players such as Arsenal’s Alex Song and 18-year-old defensive midfielder Joel Matip of Schalke.
Le Guen is hugely popular. When he took over, the Indomitable Lions were bottom of their group with just one point after two games played and in real danger of not even making it to January’s Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Le Guen had an instant impact on the team, leading them all the way to World Cup qualification. Even a quarter-final loss to Egypt in Angola wasn’t enough to dent his popularity.
The hopelessness of recent Japanese results combined with misplaced loyalty to strikers such as strikers Keiji Tamada and Yoshito Okubo, both of whom have a poor international goalscoring record, mean that coach Takeshi Okada is held in low regard. Japanese FA president Motoaki Inukai indicated in March that it was too late to sack Okada and bring in someone else, suggesting instead that supporters continue to express their dissatisfaction by booing, thereby motivating the players to do better. It hasn’t worked.
Cameroon talisman Eto’o is the best interviewee in French while Enoh Eyong of Ajax is the best talker among the Anglophones in the squad. The players haven’t recorded a World Cup song but there are at least 15 unofficial ones almost all of which are a considerable improvement on anything produced in the UK. In Japan the World Cup song is seen as too much of a commercial opportunity to be frittered away on the players, so the official ditty, called Victory, is going to be recorded by a well-known pop/rap boy band – the ominously named Exile. Cameroon’s players are expected to rehearse goal celebrations during their time in camp while the Japanese team are unlike to go beyond rocking babies or rushing to the corner flag to kneel down and shoot an arrow.
Former Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell, who had a long career in France with Bordeaux and Marseille, will be working for French radio. The Cameroonian government paid for the rights to World Cup games so most of the matches will be shown live on state television. The Japanese media coverage is expected to be a blend of over-excited flag-waving and hardcore product placement. This will be based around long-term JFA sponsorship deals with brewer/soft drinks manufacturer Kirin and the Family Mart convenience store chain – currently organising a project to encourage customers to make blue origami crows in support of the national team. Shingo Katori, one fifth of legendary J-pop outfit SMAP and a man with no recorded interest in or knowledge of football, will once again be anchoring coverage. Mike Innes & Mia Willoughby