Eto'o takes stardom in stride

The Cameroonian striker, in Israel to promote peace, talks to The Jerusalem Post.

etoo peres 298.88 (photo credit: )
etoo peres 298.88
(photo credit: )
Samuel Eto'o smiles once again as he remembers the feelings he had during the Champions League final in Paris. It is only a week since that classic game, and the FC Barcelona striker hardly stopped since he arrived in Israel to promote peace, but Eto'o doesn't seem to mind one bit. "I am never nervous and always focused," Eto'o said. "I always know that happy moments come after sad ones." At halftime, his Barcelona team was down 1-0 to Arsenal in one of the most important matches game in the club's history. But with 14 minutes to go, Eto'o equalized before Juliano Belleti scored the winner five minutes later. "The game wasn't finished and there was always hope we could win," Eto'o said. "At halftime, the players spoke to each other and there was no feeling of pressure. We knew the game had only just started." The 25-year-old Cameroon international flew into Israel on Tuesday as a guest of the Peres Center for Peace and promoted his message of tolerance since the moment he arrived. Eto'o has been a tireless campaigner against racism. He famously threatened to leave the field after being subjected to monkey noises by Real Zaragoza fans during a Spanish League match in February. He says he decided to come to Israel to help "the children" and on Wednesday afternoon, he witnessed a "mini world cup" featuring mixed Israeli and Palestinian teams of youngsters. But before that, the player many people name as the greatest striker in the world spoke about his experiences at Barcelona. Eto'o is delighted he has brought the Champions League trophy to the Catalan city and believes Barca can only improve. The victory was only the second time the club has won European soccer's premier club competition, the first being against Sampdoria at Wembley Stadium in 1992. The former Mallorca and Espanyol player was clearly at the top of his game last season, scoring 24 goals to help Barcelona win the Spanish league title for the second year in a row. "Most of our players are aged 25 or under, so our team is still being built. We need to continue and to be modest. We must push ourselves and maybe we can get even better." The biggest star on the team is undoubtedly Brazilian Ronaldinho, who Eto'o describes as "magic." Arsenal fans may wish he would move to north London, but Eto'o stresses he has no desire to leave Spain. "I am playing in the best league in the world and I don't think about moving," he said. With the World Cup only two weeks away, Eto'o reflects on the fact that he won't get the opportunity to show off his skills on the ultimate international stage. Cameroon finished second to the Ivory Coast in Group 3 of African qualification, and it will miss out on the finals for the first time since 1986. "It was God's will that I won't play in the World Cup this time and I have to accept this," he says. At least Eto'o, who has played more than 60 times for his country, has had experience of playing in the last two World Cups - in Japan/South Korea four years ago when Cameroon failed to get past the first round, and in France '98 where he made one appearance. Eto'o won't name the team he believes will win the tournament but he believes the African teams have a chance to do well. "Everything is possible. I have a lot of friends on the African teams and I know that with some luck they could go very far," he concludes. And what does he think of Israel? "It is a beautiful country from what I have seen of it," Eto'o says. "It's just a shame that I can't go into the sea because I can't swim," he adds with another smile.