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Cameroon will play against Mexico in the round of 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Columbia after they defeated Uruguay 1-0 to finish as runners-up in Group B on Friday.

Their coach Martin Ndtoungou, by the same token maintains his little-known record of being part of the coaching staff of every Cameroon national team that has crossed the first round of an international (non-African) competition since 2000.

Cameroon Football Fans

He was Jean Paul Akono’s assistant when Cameroon won Olympic Gold in Sydney (2000) and Winfried Schaeffer’s number 2 when Cameroon reached the final of the FIFA confederations Cup and lost to a Thierry Henri golden goal in 2003.

He led the fine pride of U-23 Lions that reached the quarter-finals of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 (only to lose to Ronaldinho’s Brazil); and now he has taken this set of cubs to the knock-out stage of the World Cup.

Successful Tactical Switch

It wasn’t an easy ride. The coach had to make a few changes after the team drew (1-1 with New Zealand) and lost (0-1 to Portugal) in its opening two games.

He changed his tactics from a flat 4-4-2 to a diamond midfield (4-1-3-2) with just one holding midfielder Frank Kom and a playmaker (engache) Emmanuel Mbongo Ewangue operating behind two strikers: Frank Ohandza and Christ Mbondi.

The passing was haphazard and sloppy at the start of the game. However, the flexibility of Ndtoungou’s tactics – which permitted the team to shift into a 4-2-1-3 with an attacking threesome of Mbondi (wide left) Ohandza (centre) and Yazid Atouba (wide right) supported by Mbongo –  delivered the goods as Mbongo scored the lone goal of the game from a cross by Mbondi in the 28th minute of play.

Eyewitnesses say after the game the team exploded with joy.

“Players singing and dancing some even shouting at the top of their voices,” Simon Lyonga, CRTV’s envoy in Columbia told me. “It shows that they too badly needed the win and the second round ticket,” he added when we had a debrief shortly after the game.

But Lyonga, who represented Cameroon at youth level and has covered several international competitions as a reporter, was quick to warn against any complacency saying the team must focus on the challenges to come against Mexico and forget the euphoria of beating Uruguay.

And he’s right.

Could be better

There was victory over Uruguay but creativity remains a weakness in the team with too many hopeful balls from the goalkeeper to the attackers.

The fact that Ndtoungou Mpile has changed formations in every game and tested several players as playmaker shows he is worried.

Mbongo and Herve Mbega alternated as playmakers against Uruguay while Clarence Bitang often confused playmaking with irrelevant flicks and dribbles which ended with Cameroon  losing possession when he held the role against Portugal. (He came on as a substitute against Uruguay).

Will Ndtoungou continue with his diamond/4-2-1-3 formations which require a quality ‘engache’ or will he return to his favoured flat 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders?

Learn how to score

Then there is the small (but important) matter of scoring goals. The Junior Lions have made it to the round of 16 with only 2 goals scored (we can’t tally their own goal for New Zealand!).

But someone has to teach Frank Ohandza how to score a goal! He must stop missing like he did at the 25th, 35th, 66th, and 70th minutes when  gaffes by the Uruguay keeper and defence gifted him with scoring opportunities that he wasted.

Ndtoungou and his assistant, Engelbert Mbarga, must be cursing the European clubs that refused to allow sharp-shooters like Jacques Zoua Dogari (FC Basel, Switzerland) and Vincent Aboubakar (Rennes, France) from joining the squad.

The coaches can only imagine how Shalke midfielder Joel Matip’s clean interceptions and his eye for a forward pass and Monaco’s Edgar Sali’s technique and penetrative skills could have been useful to unlock defences. But they are both absent as well.

Ndtoungou has shown in this competition and in the past (All Africa Games, Olympics and African Youth Championships) that he knows how to blend the (little talented) players at his disposal to make winning teams. Let’s see if his science will work against Mexico.

Enyimba football Club of Aba Nigeria have beaten Cameroon’s Cotonsport Garoua 3-2 in a CAF African Champions league game played in Garoua on Saturday.

The Nigerians were the first to hit the net through their striker,Uche Kalu, barely 9 minutes into play. Johnson Chidoze scored at the 40th minute for Enyimba to take  a 2-0 lead to half-time.

Cotonsport scored two minutes after recess. They equalised 20 minutes into the second half through substitute Seidou Idrissa who had spent only a minute on the pitch when he beat the Enyimba goalkeeper.

Enyimba were rattled for a few minutes after Cotonsport’s equliser but quickly re-grouped and recovered control of the game.

Kalu Uche scored the winner five minutes before full-time after dismal marking from the Cameroon team had left him alone face-to-face with goalkeeper Daouda Kassali.

Tactics

The game was tactically and technically uninspiring in its early stages. Both teams had flooded the midfield but few players could actually retain the ball and initiate interesting passing and movement. It was therefore no surprise that Enyimba’s curtain-raiser came through a free-kick.

After scoring Enyimba placed emphasis on pressure; maintaining a high defensive line which kept Cotonsport deep inside their own half. When the Garoua team managed to string a few passes, the player with the ball was harassed and forced to shoot from far.

Cotonsport’s coach had taken the decision to play Ousmaila Baba, a natural winger, in the right-back position of his back four. Baba’s natural attacking instinct meant he often shot forward like a wing-back which had a negative impact on the team’s overall balance.

With Baba sprinting forward,  one of the central defenders had to shift to fill his position and the ripple effect meant the leftback Sebastien Ndzana Kana always had to tuck into central defence creating an open space on the flank. The basically re-shaped as a (confused) 3-4-3 when Baba was attacking.

Enyimba’s right back benefited from this disorganisation and made a cross into the 18 yard for their second goal. The third goal also resulted from Baba’s forays forward. He had shot up front for an attack and lost possession. This left his flank wide open as the many tired legs in the Cotonsport side were unable to fill Baba’s space.

The Nigerian left-back had acres of space and time to hit a low cross into the six yard area where Kalu Uche was unmarked.

Poor Midfield

Cotonsport’s midfield was out of the game. Ndame Ndame who has been called up a few times for the Indomitable Lions, did little to convince anyone doubting how he could be preferred over  Shalke’s Joel Matip. He dribbled when he had to pass and mis-timed tackles every other time.

Joel Babanda and Michel Balokok would also have to improve if Cotonsport expects to perform as well as they did in the 2008 season of the Champions league when they reached the final.

Enyimba could have won with a bigger scoreline had their strikers not been wasteful, especially in the last minutes of the game when Cotonsport threw caution to the wind and attempted to get an equaliser by every means possible.

On the positive side, the Cameroon champions showed they had character by coming from two goals down to draw level. Maybe the return of their two players representing Cameroon at the U-20 World Cup in Columbia might be helpful when they clash with Al Hilal of Sudan.

Before then, their fans should hope that coach Lavagne re-works his tactics and ensures they have the physical capacity to play 90 minutes at a high level (not Cameroon league standard). They looked beaten and tired by the end of the game. (Playing at 3pm in hot, hot Garoua isn’t helpful either)!

Cameroon’s head coach Javier Selected has picked a team with more attack minded players to start against Senegal in Yaounde this Saturday.

He has included three youngsters: Aboubakar Vincent, Benjamin Moukandjo and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting. They will support Samuel Eto’o while he dropped Aurelien Chedjou and Henri Bedimo to the bench.

Gaetan Bong replaces Assou-Ekotto at left back while the rest of the defence remains unchanged with Amgwa Benoit (RB) and the duo Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia as centre-backs.

Enoh Eyong and Landry Nguemo will play in the midle of the pack.

Here is the team: Kameni ; Angbwa – Mbia – Nkoulou – Bong ; Nguemo – Eyong – Moukandjo -Choupo – Aboubakar ; Eto’o.

*Adds news of Assou-Ekotto and Matip’s selection

George Elokobi, the Wolverhampton Wanderers defender, has been included in Cameroon’s squad to face Senegal on 26 March in Dakar. He is part of three-man additional list that includes Joel Matip and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The list was published late Friday in Yaounde.

Elokobi recently told the British media about his deep wish to be called up to represent his native land has seen his efforts on the field pay-off.

He replaces the injured Gaetan Bong who was on the initial 23-man team summoned to camp Javier Clemente, the Spain-born head coach of Cameroon.

Many observers were surprised that Clemente had picked Bong in the first place, as it was well known that the defender  has been out of action for a month.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto of Tottenham Hotspur, who is probably Cameroon’s best left-back at the moment is also called up to defend his national colours.

A national team insider told Gef’s Football Club that Clemente is punishing Assou-Ekotto for perceived indiscipline but it now seems public and government pressure has swayed the Spaniard (see separate story on Gef’s Football Club).

Roger Milla, Cameroon’s football legend, had taken offence at Clemente’s decision to leave out some players who have been performing in their clubs on the grounds of discipline.

“Those who have compiled this list (team selection) do not like Cameroon. You cannot suspend players and claim to have the best team… If you want the best team, you call everyone,” Milla is quoted as saying.

However, as suggested by a poster on Gef’s Football Club, it is about time Cameroonians stop focusing on who’s absent and concentrate on supporting those included in the squad.

“Those who have been called up should take the challenge and make Cameroonians proud by bringing home all 3 points,” Ensah Bertrand said in a comment on a strory about Elokobi’s fortitude.

The man born in Mamfe, joins vice-captain Eyong Enoh and Mbuta Adongcho to bring to three the number of Cameroonians from the English-speaking part of the country who are part of the expedition to Dakar.

More tit-bits on Senegal v Cameroon to follow…

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