2014 World Cup team preview: Cameroon

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Getting to know…Cameroon: Most people know the seasoned striker, but there is talent dotted across this African squad.  However, history is not on their side.  Despite an African-record six World Cup appearances, they have only made it past the group stage once – in 1990 when they reached the quarterfinals before losing to England in extra time. It’s often about beating the odds for the African countries, but in a group with no clear second-place finisher, they could make some noise.

Record in qualifying: Cameroon topped Group I of the CAF qualification group stage with 13 points, beating out Libya to reach the playoff round.  After drawing Tunisia, they put a 0-0 first-leg draw behind them to trounce Les Aigles 4-1 on the road and pull one of the five African spots in the 2014 World Cup.

What group are they in? The Indomitable Lions are members of Group A along with Brazil, Mexico, and Croatia.  It would appear on paper that they would be on the outside looking in, but with Mexico and Croatia hoping to duke it out on the last day for the second spot behind Brazil, Cameroon could catch some by surprise if they pick up a result against one or both of those countries.

Game Schedule: Group A

13 June, 12:00 ET, Natal – Mexico vs. Cameroon
18 June, 18:00 ET, Manaus – Cameroon vs. Croatia
23 June, 16:00 ET, Brasilia – Cameroon vs. Brazil

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24-year-old defender Nicolas N’Koulou (right) has attracted the attention of top clubs across Europe, but occasionally makes rash decisions.

Star Player: Samuel Eto’o

Chelsea’s veteran striker Samuel Eto’o will make his third World Cup appearance, and has seen just about everything in the European game.  As

Cameroon’s third most capped player, he will hopefully have some help from fellow seasoned striker Pierre Webo in the goal scoring department, but the buck often stops with Eto’o.

Manager: Volker Finke

The 66-year-old German is Cameroon’s fifth manager since their disappointing 2010 campaign. The 16-year boss of Bundesliga side Freiburg, Finke’s hiring a year ago was met with criticism around the country, even conspiracy theories that German kit sponsor Puma had a hand in the selection.  Despite mostly positive results since his hiring, there are still doubters of the “Finke Method”, especially after the team fell 5-1 to Portugal in a March friendly. Other than a one-year venture Japan’s J-League, Cameroon is Finke”s first foray outside of Germany.

Secret Weapon: Size

Between the 6-foot Samuel Eto’o, Alex Song’s 6-foot-1 frame, the 6-foot Nicolas N’Koulou, and 6-foot Pierre Webo, the team has not just height but plenty of bulk to go along with it. The team pairs that with impressive speed, and the skills are there.  Sometimes, however, the size advantage can betray Cameroon, and their defense is prone to giving away fouls (and penalties) in bad areas. The team has a good mix of experience (Eto’o, Webo, Jean Makoun, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Stephane Mbia) and young but proven talent (N’Koulou, Vincent Aboubakar).  Finke has the build, now he just needs to get the team to play like one.

Prediction: Of all the African nations often written off before the start of the tournament (Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana), Cameroon likely has the best chance to make the knockout round. They have to start strong, with their best chance for points in their first match, and it only gets tougher from there.  Odds are they succumb to the superior talent around them, but Cameroon could definitely contend for that second position in Group A.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

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“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.