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SALVADOR Brazil (Reuters) - Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o defended himself on Friday over his role in the squad's pre-World Cup strike action in the wake of blistering criticism back home, including media allegations of "treason".
In an open letter to the Cameroon people, Eto'o said last weekend’s strike – which included refusing to accept a symbolic flag from the prime minister and delaying their departure for Brazil by almost a day in a haggle over World Cup money – was a search for "improvements that will benefit future generations".
"I fought for what I believe to be legitimate: the right of my team mates for their bonuses so that they can give the best of themselves for their country," said Eto'o ahead of Cameroon's opening Group A match against Mexico in Natal on Friday.
He was at the forefront of a torrid pre-World Cup weekend which saw the players snub Prime Minister Philemon Yang and then refuse to get on their expensively-chartered airline for Brazil.
"There have been misunderstandings, certainly. However, we are satisfied with a happy end. We hope that all those who were offended by our insistence are able to forgive us," Eto'o, 33, added in the letter distributed to reporters on Friday.
This week the Cameroon media turned on their favourite footballing son with one newspaper editorial accusing him of “high treason”.
They were particularly piqued by the refusal of the players to take a giant flag from Yang at the end of Saturday’s warm-up win over Moldova in Yaounde.
While the players refused to come out of the changing room, Cameroon’s German coach Volker Finke went to accept it instead.
Eto'o's international achievements – he is a record-breaking four-time African Footballer of the Year and has three Champions League winners' medals – have made him an almost untouchable icon in the central African country but unprecedented criticism in recent days has obviously touched him.
Cameroon's players were supposed to fly to Brazil on Sunday but refused to leave their hotel until they were given an extra five million CFA Francs ($10,300) each on top of the 50 million already paid.
Arguments over money ahead of major tournaments has become almost commonplace for Cameroon's squad with Eto’o previously cast in the role of protector of his team mates from the greed of officialdom.
In late 2011, Eto’o was banished from the squad for eight months for leading a strike that saw a sold-out international against Algeria cancelled because Cameroon's players refused to play until they received promised payments.
($1 = 484.8200 Central African Cfa Franc Beacs)
Editing by Ken Ferris