By Andy Scott*
Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) (AFP) – Cameroon skipper Stephane Mbia says the absence of Samuel Eto’o from this year’s Africa Cup of Nations is a blow for the whole continent as the Indomitable Lions prepare for their opening game of the 2015 finals.
“He is a great player who we will really miss. Certain people didn’t like the way he was but he is a good guy. He will be hugely missed as a person,” said Mbia of Eto’o, who is focusing on his club Everton after retiring from international football following last year’s World Cup in Brazil.
“I think he could have continued but he decided to stop and it was disappointing for Africa as a whole and Cameroon too, to lose a great player like Samuel Eto’o.”
The four-time African player of the year, now 33, has enjoyed a glittering career, winning the UEFA Champions League three times and forming part of the Cameroon sides that lifted the Cup of Nations in 2000 and 2002.
They have not won the continental title since, coming closest in 2008 when they were beaten by Egypt in the final.
Volker Finke’s rejuvenated side have been tipped to do well at this year’s tournament in Equatorial Guinea, but Mbia said he will settle for an encouraging showing with one eye on 2019, when Cameroon will host the competition for the first time since 1972.
“We will take things one game at a time but I think the most important thing is to prepare for 2019, which will be at home,” added the Sevilla man, who was appointed as the new captain in time for the Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.
– ‘Pulling in same direction’ –
Finke stayed on despite a disastrous World Cup showing which saw them lose all three games, but Mbia says the veteran German has now managed to stamp his authority on a side that performed well in qualifying without Eto’o.
“I think the most important thing is the work that the manager has done. I am just a go-between for the coach and the players.
“I think the manager has been able to impose his decisions and discipline which will be our strength in the coming years.
“We are all pulling in the same direction and if you have team-mates who are all prepared to work for each other – I think that shows what the mood within the squad is like.”
Cameroon trained in Malabo on Sunday morning as preparations continue for their opening Group D game against Mali on Tuesday evening.
Mbia, formerly of Marseille and Queens Park Rangers, has recovered from a leg muscle injury suffered while playing for Sevilla on January 3 that at one point threatened to keep him out of the tournament.
However, he cannot play against Mali due to suspension after being sent off in the final qualifying game against the Ivory Coast in Abidjan in November.
“I feel very, very good. I am just a bit disappointed that I can’t play the first match.
“The most important thing for me is to recover well and think about supporting my teammates during the first match against Mali.”