MANAUS, Brazil – Cameroon's day went from bad to worse, and ended with an early elimination from the World Cup.
The 1990 quarterfinalists, the first African team to make it that far at a World Cup, were outplayed and outmanned by Croatia on Wednesday in a 4-0 loss that leaves the Cameroonians with no chance of reaching the second round.
The evening started with the news that Samuel Eto'o, the team's best and most experienced player, would not start because of a right knee injury.
It got worse 40 minutes into the game when Alex Song inexplicably chased down Mario Mandzukic away from the ball and elbowed him in the back, drawing an immediate red card from referee Pedro Proenca of Portugal. At the time, the score was only 1-0.
And it actually got even worse than that.
In injury time, Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butted teammate Benjamin Moukandjo in front of their own goal, and the two briefly scuffled before the match mercifully ended.
"It's unimaginable. I saw this happen and I need to find out exactly what happened, why exactly these two players exploded," Cameroon coach Volker Finke said of the internal squabble. "I really hate to see that. It's not the image of Cameroon I want to project."
Cameroon still has one match left to play at the World Cup, against Brazil on Monday. And although the team can't advance, the Cameroonians could ruin Brazil's chances by beating the hosts.
But without Song, who will be suspended for the match because of his red card, and maybe without Eto'o again, that will be tough.
Eto'o came to Brazil with a right knee injury, but he played in the opening loss to Mexico. He said he felt pain during the match, however, and eventually pulled out of Wednesday's game.
"We have to wait. Today it wasn't possible," Finke said on Eto'o's chances of facing Brazil. "This is a question for the medical department and also for Samuel."
But the bigger problem may be within the squad.
Cameroon arrived late in Brazil after a dispute over World Cup bonus payments. And although Finke and Eto'o repeatedly said the team was united and ready to compete at the highest level, there were those two disturbing incidents at the Arena da Amazonia on Wednesday.
"I think that this team has shown some things that are not acceptable," Finke said, "and there will be consequences for the players involved, definitely."