Football: Lions face a trial in Harare

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The Independent Online
Faced with the likelihood of needing to beat Zimbabwe away to guarantee a place in the World Cup finals in France next year, Cameroon have enjoyed their usual chaotic preparation for today's match.

Cameroon top Group Four with 11 points, two clear of Angola and with a goal difference better by two. But with Angola likely to beat the bottom team in the group, Togo, the Indomitable Lions cannot afford to rely on anyone but themselves and must go for the win.

But yet another change of coach, the sending of a virtual reserve team to a warm-up tournament and the now traditional bonus discussions have hampered their build-up to the game in Harare.

The Lions have never before had to play an away game to clinch World Cup qualification and their record in Harare is poor, having been well beaten 4-1 on their last visit in an African Nations qualifier in January 1995, and losing 1-0 in a 1993 qualifier.

Zimbabwe are out of the running but have a score or two to settle, having been denied a place in both the 1994 World Cup and the 1996 African Nations Cup by Cameroon.

But the new coach Jean Manga Onguene, who took over a month ago after the resignation of Henri Depireux, sees a silver lining in the situation. "I'm not worried about playing away from home," he said. "At home we would have been subjected to a terrible amount of public pressure."

The experienced striker Francois Omam Biyick agreed. "It will be necessary to be strong in order to win away from home," he said.

Bulgaria also have to play a qualifier that will go a long way to deciding if they will be in France next year. Israel may not seem the toughest opponents, especially as Wednesday's game is in Sofia, but the Bulgarians will be paying the underdogs complete respect after losing their first meeting 2-1.

Russia lead Group Five with 14 points from six games with Israel and Bulgaria second and third. Israel, bidding to qualify for the finals for only the second time, have 13 points from seven games with Bulgaria a point back but with two games in hand.

The Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoichkov gave credit to the Israelis but said his team-mates were in confident mood. "These 90 minutes will be much harder than the match against Russia," he said. "But not one of us thinks we will lose this match."