NATAL, Brazil (AP) — Cameroon came late to the World Cup after a bonus dispute caused trouble before the squad got to Brazil. Now that the players are here, the team wants to leave all that back in Africa.
Yet with Friday’s first match against Mexico in Group A looming, the dispute was still the first question posed to the players in Thursday’s news conference.
It took about five seconds for Cameroon spokesman Rafael Nkoa to silence any answer.
“This press conference has only to do with the game,” Nkoa barked. “We don’t want to discuss any other matter.”
And so they didn’t, except for coach Volker Finke’s later dismissal that the dispute — which forced the Cameroon Football Federation to take out a private loan to meet player payment demands — had harmed team spirit, just when it needs to be at its best.
That’s just how business gets done in Cameroon, Finke said.
“I think you have to respect a difference in culture. It’s not something to be judged from the outside. Somebody in Germany, or in France, can’t understand how things happen in Cameroon,” Volke said. “It works for people in Cameroon. Just respect the way things happen in Africa. We found a solution.”
Still, Cameroon seems to be having a hard time finding its footing on a different continent as it tries to avoid a repeat of South Africa 2010 when it lost all three group games and made an early exit.
After their late arrival in Brazil, the team was a day late getting to Natal, then was late getting across town to the Arenas das Dunas stadium for their training and media sessions.
“It’s not the end of the world. We work properly, will live together well, we hope to have the best tournament possible,” defender Nicolas N’Koulou said.
By contrast, Mexico confidently breezed into this balmy coastal city on a quest to make history for a country that has never advanced past the World Cup quarterfinals.
And that comes despite a difficult qualifying that tore at the nation’s confidence in El Tri, and brash coach Miguel Herrera’s decision to leave a top player like striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez on the bench to start Friday’s match.
Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, a 35-year-old defender who will anchor the team in his fourth World Cup, noted Mexico has players who won an Under-17 world championship and the 2012 Olympic gold medal.
Those victories had sparked talk of a “golden generation” and those players come to the World Cup still believing they can do something special, Marquez said.
“The team has forged one lineup of making history, of doing something important,” Marquez said.
That unity could unravel quickly if Mexico can’t secure a victory and three priceless points ahead of its match on June 17 against host Brazil. If Mexico struggles to find the net, expect loud calls for Hernandez to be on the pitch. Mexican media estimate about 10,000 Mexico fans to be at the Arena das Dunas in Natal.
“Every player in the world wants to be a starter,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to be happy being on the bench, but I want to support my teammates because I want to be a respectful player ... I’m tired of hearing I’m a good sub. I prove that whether I have 90 minutes or 15 minutes, I want to do my best.”
Herrera, who took over the national team just seven months ago, is coaching in his first international tournament. He rescued Mexico in qualifying but faces a different pressure now.
Herrera said he’s found a sense of peace on the eve of his biggest match.
“Every training (session) leaves me easy, calm and knowing every player will leave their soul, their last breath, to make Mexican fans happy,” he said.