Samuel Eto’o missed a late penalty that would have given Cameroon victory over Senegal and keep the Central African nation’s slim hope of qualifying to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations alive. The game ended 0-0 and the Indomitable Lions look certain to miss the tournament to be hosted by their neighbours Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But on a purely tactical perspective it was a promising display from Cameroon – their most attack-minded performance in a competitive match in a long while.

Cameroon’s head coach, Javier Clemente, kept his promise to send out a team focused on attacking its opponent from the start.  The team included Benjamin Moukandjo, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Samuel Eto’o who are all used as attackers in their clubs.

He organised them in a 4-2-3-1 formation (similar to the one used by Germany at the 2010 World Cup). Eto’o was the lone striker while the youngsters (named above) played as the “3” behind him often interchanging positions. The shape gave the team width and penetration as the front four took turns to become de facto striker, “wingers” (cutting inside) or drop as a supporting striker (linking midfield and attack) given that the trio (Moukandjo, Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting) are all capable of unpicking opposing defences with ease.

The result was constant pressure on the Senegalese team from the first to the last minute of play; in a way Cameroon last did only in the 2006 Cup of Nations under Arthur Jorge and the early days of Paul Le Guen’s reign.

There were over a dozen corner kicks for Cameroon; not less than a dozen free-kicks at the edge of the Senegalese 18-yard box; and 7 clear goal-scoring chances (several of them one-on-one with the goalkeeper).

Sadly, the finishing was poor. Many of the shots were hit straight at goalkeeper Coundoul (who was preferred to (Calamity) Khadim Ndiaye).

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Is it all about victory now?

MOVEMENT

The Senegalese have lashed out at the referee, who was far from excellent and gave a rather soft penalty to Cameroon. But the referee cannot be blamed for their complete tameness. Amara Traore had opted for a 4-3-3 which had a front three of Mamadou Niang, Issiar Dia and Moussa Sow. His intention was to have an extra man in midfield as opposed to the away leg in Dakar.

Yet, they were over-run by the movement Cameroon’s midfield 5 (if one includes the threesome that was supporting the attack) particularly the Enoh Eyong Tarkang and Landry Nguemo duet. Enoh sat deep mainly protecting his centre-backs while Nguemo peppered the Senegalese with hardworking box-to-box play that supported the attacking scheme set-up by Clemente (Aurelien Chedjou who was surprisingly left on the bench as a result of this formation, came on as a second-half substitute for Nguemo and added that penetration that was lacking in Dakar, as well).

The Senegalese had only one shot on target and it was from an off-side position.

Cameroon’s keeper, Carlos Kameni, was practically not seen throughout the encounter while his defenders – Amgwa Ossomeyong (RB), Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Stephane Mbia (CB), Gaetan Bong (LB) – were rarely troubled. The full-backs (Amgwa and Bong) shuttled back and forth on the flanks to add with while Mbia had several opportunities to score with a header from Cameroon’s numerous kicks – but he hit the ball wide on many occasions.

The pressure, movement, passing, free-kicks and possession driven play from back-to-front came to nil because Cameroon were unable to score. A few fans got so bitter after the game that they attacked cars parked outside the stadium and clashed with security forces who tried to protect the players. It pains when a team doesn’t win and nobody wants failure. But there were positive lessons in that game which could serve as a great guide.

PROMISE

Beyond Eto’o and the penalty he missed – Saturday’s game was another preview of a promising new generation of Indomitable Lions. With the average age of the starting eleven being 22 (if you take away Kameni and Eto’o)  there is a foundation for the emergence of another great pride of Lions (including the likes of Joel Matp and Salli Edgar),  if they play under the guidance of a manager who is there to build and  is not under pressure to produce immediate results (which politicians want to use as distraction).

“A manager (coach) can only make a difference if he has a club that backs him, that is patient, that gives confidence to players and that is willing to commit to long-term. And in any case that doesn’t just want to win, but to win convincingly,” Arrigo Sacchi, the Italian master tactician, is quoted as saying in Jonathan Wilson’s book: Inverting the Pyramid.

The mistake that has been made in the past and which was repeated after the World Cup in 2010 was to go for the short-term (or victory now and at all cost) approach. Authorities and the media didn’t accept that the Indomitable Lions were (are) a team under construction (in transition).

They went into witch-hunting mode, comparing generations passed and present, and mis-managing (or over-reacting to) tensions between players in the squad. Many were oblivious to the fact that Le Guen had unearthed talented  but inexperienced players that had to mature and could not necessarily triumph at the World Cup or ride over the continent.

Upon the first hurdle (which was the 1-1 draw with Congo), the media and team administrators panicked and a chain of reactions has led to a collapse of what should have been a painstaking project.

An absence from the Africa Cup could turn to into an opportunity to build a solid and more conquering team. With less pressure to win a trophy, a good and passionate coach, discipline and better organisation, regular camps and sparring partners on every FIFA date available, the Lions would re-emerge as a force in 2012/13 in time for the World Cup qualifiers.

Wasn’t that the path that Senegal took after they were knocked-out of the race to the 2010 Africa Cup and World Cup tournaments?

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