Tag Archive: ndtoungou mpile


Cameroon beat the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 1-0 in front many empty terraces to start-off their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on a good footing.They top their group with three points.  It could have been a different story, though, had Congo been a more clinical team.

Congo’s Leopards had the best scoring opportunities in the first-half at the 9th, 14th and 43rd minutes of play but they were denied by Cameroon’s goalkeeper Idris Carlos Kameni.

A goal from Choupo-Moting (in white) saves Cameroon under Dennis Lavagne and Martin Ndtoungou (both in green). Picture by Linus Pascal Fouda

Football being far from a perfect science, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions  scored  the only goal of the encounter through the individual brilliance of their Germany-based striker Choupo-Moting. He dazzled the Congolese defenders with some tricky moves and was ultimately floored for a penalty-kick. He showed great mental strength by scoring his spot-kick the second time of asking  after the referee ruled out his first (successful) attempt.

If anyone feels there was nothing to write home about, the Lions’ coach Denis Lavagne would point to the result. He has won five in five including two competitive ties against Guinea Bissau (1-0) and DRC (1-0). Yet, the under pressure Frenchman could hardly conceal his relief after the game.

“This (victory) is liberating for me and for the players…You know that many people expected us to lose. But no, we won and we will be there next week (to play against Libya),” he told Cameroon national television (CRTV) after the game.

A win is a good thing. It means 3 points are in the bag.  What  happens when Choupo-Moting can’t save the day?

Here are some tactical notes from the game:

1. Team & Formation: Coach Lavagne stuck to his preferred 4-3-3 formation that he has used since he took over the reigns of the team in November last year. He started with Georges Mandjeck at right-back; Henri Bedimo (Left-back); Dany Noukeu (centre-back) and Aurelien Chedjou (centre-back). Stephane Mbia was sweeping infront of the back-four while Alexandre Song and Landry Nguemo played slightly ahead of him – with a mission to link up with the attackers: Benjamin Moukandjo (left-forward); Choupo-Moting (Right-forward) and Kwekeu (centre-forward).

Edgar Sali came on for Kweuke after 60 minutes. He played on the left flank while Choupo Moting moved to centre-forward. Mbuta Andongcho replaced the injured Ngeumo near the end of the encounter leading to a tactical shift to 4-2-3-1. Song and Mbia were the two centre midfielders, Andongcho played on right flank, Sali on the left and Moukandjo played behind Choupo.

2. Attack: As the home team one would have expected Cameroon to take the game to the Congolese but that didn’t happen. The Lions’ build-up was slow and ponderous. Their passing was awful. All of which allowed the Congolese to regroup and hold their defensive shape. Lavagne must ask for greater urgency from his players.

Congo’s manager, Claude Leroy,  had flooded the midfield to deny Cameroon space and time to play the ball. This kept Ngeumo and Song in check. The ball hardly reached the attackers in the first-half. Choupo-Moting looked like a spectator. Kwekeu was isolated and always had two DRC defenders with him.

There was little variety in attacks which all came from the left flank where  Bedimo had a fruitful partnership with Moukandjo and later Sali. Bedimo even forced the Congolese keeper to a save minutes after Choupo-Moting’s goal. Things didn’t quite tick on the right flank where Mandjeck (normally a central midfielder or a centre-back) operated as fullback.

There was a slight improvement in the second-half. Song and Nguemo pushed further forward to dictate play and create chances. However their final balls were not the best and they are certainly not natural goal-scorers. Song, for instance, fumbled after Choupo-Moting put him through to goal via a cheeky lob over  the Congolese defence line.

3. Defence: The defenders had never played together as a unit (in the same positions) before. The Noukeu-Chedjou partnership looked comfortable dealing with longs-balls but was a bit brittle when the Congolese stretched the game wide and made quick passes on the ground.

Bedimo was generally good on the left. Mandjeck, however, had difficulty with his defensive duties on the right, requiring Noukeu to regularly come to his rescue. Lavagne also has to remind his centre-midfielders to provide cover to the fullbacks when the latter surge forward. The absence of such cover exposed Bedimo who was the most attacking of the fullbacks.

Stephane Mbia started slowly on his return to the position of holding midfielder for the Lions. He looked out of shape (he’s just back from injury), his first touch was heavy and his passing wayward.  He improved in the second-half and showed the energy and drive fans are more accustomed to. I would like to see Joel Matip or Chedjou tested in that role again, though.

4. Set-plays: Where is Geremi when you need him? Cameroon’s corner-kicks and free-kicks were a sham. If Ngeumo intends to become the set-piece specialist of the team, he needs to contact Geremi for lessons. His shots often landed near the stands. There was no coordinated movement for corner-kicks. It was poor – enough said.

5. Comment: Here are the words of CRTV pundit Ekinneh Ebai after the game: “There was no cohesion in the play. The play-style was insipid, it was slow, incoherent; a combination of 22 legs just kicking the ball and running wildly hoping something would happen…we got the win but it was a disappointing win.”

Bienvenu Ntsama, the  forward who currently plays for Turkish side Fernerbahce, is set to start for Cameroon this Sunday when they clash with hosts Morocco at the 2011 LG Cup, Cameroon media correspondents say.

The striker who scored 16 goals last season for Swiss club Young Boys Bernes is quick and sharp in-front of goal. He can play as a second striker dropping deep to support play but could also function in wide attacking roles.

Ntsama is expected to be part of a front-three that includes Vincent Aboubakar, a former Cotonsport forward (now playing for Valencienne in France) and Indomitable Lions captain Samuel Eto’o.

Ntsama was first called to camp in an international friendly against Poland in 2010. He was part of the squad that played against Mauritius in September last year but was not recalled until September this year. This may be a chance for him to stake a claim for a place in the squad.

He will be replacing Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting who picked up a knock on the ankle during Cameroon’s 3-1 defeat of Sudan at the start of the LG Cup on Friday. Reports say Choupo-Moting has been released by Cameroon’s coaching staff to enable him return to his German club, Mainz, for proper treatment and rest.

Choupo-Moting’s situation only adds to the injury woes that have hit Cameroon as they seek to re-build their team through a series of friendlies in North Africa. Strikers Leonard Kweuke, Benjamin Moukandjo and Somen Tchoyi; as well as defenders Nicolas Nkoulou, Aurelien Chedjou, Gaetan Bong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto had earlier pulled-out of the squad due to injury.

Cameroon players on reserve bench, Dakar 26 March 2011

From left to right: N'Dy Assembe, Vincent Aboubakar , Georges Mandjeck, Choupo-Moting, Abouna Ndzana and Tchoyi on the reserve bench in Dakar against Senegal. A 26 March 2011 photo by GEF.

This forced head coach Denis Lavagne to field two central midfielders, Joel Matip and Georges Mandjeck, as centrebacks in the game against Sudan. While Matip came out relatively unscathe, Mandjeck had a rough time and even conceded a penalty that led to the Sudanese goal.

The Rennes midfielder is now expected to start Sunday’s game on the bench while Dany Noukeu, a regular centre-back will partner Matip at the heart of Cameroon’s defence.

Allan Nyom, the Granada FC rightback, who was a make-shift left fullback on Friday will start on the bench as Henri Bedimo (a regular leftback) has shaken off an injury  is fit to start against the Atlas Lions.

Two fullbacks from Cameroon’s national league – Abouna Ndzana and Oyongo Bitolo – have now joined the camp and may be given a run at some point. They were summoned when the coaches realised that all of Cameroon’s main left fullbacks were injured.

Goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni, who got injured barely 20 minutes into the game against Sudan, has yet to recover which means Guy Roland N’Dy Assembe of French side Nancy will start against Morocco.

The coaches have shown confidence in the midfield trio of Enoh Eyong, Landry N’Geumo and Alexandre Song that started against Sudan. Hopefully, they would maintain a consistent level of passing and pressure on opponents to regain possession throughout the game. There was a dip in their performance during the second half of the encounter against Sudan.

Here’s the expected starting line-up in a 4-3-3 formation: Assembe; Angbwa (RB) – Matip (CB) – Noukeu (CB) – Bedimo (LB); N’Geumo (CM) – Enoh (CM) – Song (CM); Aboubakar (FW) – Eto’o (ST) – Ntsama (FW).

Cameroon’s new coaching staff  face a tough start to their tenure after nine players they had short-listed for a series of international friendly matches in North Africa withdrew from the squad due to injuries.

With six defenders (3 centre-backs and 3 left fullbacks) unavailable for selection the head coach Denis Lavagne has to stitch up an all new defence line for Friday’s duel with Sudan.

Lavagne would have to play midfielders as defenders. He is lucky to have Joel Matip, Alex Song and Georges Mandjeck who have played in their European clubs at centre-back this season (or even before) whereas they are nominally holding midfielders.

It is likely that one of the right fullbacks (Allan Nyom) would have to slot into the left-back role in the match against Sudan. Two Cameroon based left fullbacks – Abouna Ndzana and Oyongo Bitolo – have been summoned to join the squad and they are expected to be available for selection in the next game.

Whatever the case, coordination would be a challenge, particularly in the defence, as the players have no prior knowledge of each other’s movements.

Denis Lavagne (left) and his assistant Ndtoungou Mpile (right) have to stitch-up the defence (Photo by Linus Pascal Fouda, Team Press Officer)

LAVAGNE’S OPTIONS

It is clear that the defence will be very young and inexperienced with all the probable starters having a grand total of  less than 20 international caps between them. But what about the midfield and attack?  Would Lavagne and his team go for more youthfulness?

For instance, would he dare to keep Samuel Eto’o on the bench and start with an attack line including the likes of Jacques Zoua, Bienvenu Ntsama and Vincent Aboubakar who used to play under his stewardship at Cotonsport Garoua in Cameroon?

The Lions need to be united to succeed despite the injuries (Photo by Linus Pascal Fouda, Cameroon Team Press Officer)

Lavagne had surely based his tactical options on the skills of certain players who are absent. It would be interesting to see how the Frenchman opts to play.

In the final days of Javier Clemente’s reign as Cameroon manager, the team seemed to be toying with a 3-man midfield and 4-3-3 formation. But the Spaniard often reverted to a 4-2-3-1. Would Lavagne stick to these formations?

I know that Lavagne’s assistant, Ndtoungou Mpile, favours the 4-4-2, usually with two holding midfielders and two wide men. When he needed to win a game at all cost, the former Junior Lions manager would field a diamond midfield (1 holding midfielder,2 shuttlers instead of wingers and 1 playmaker behind the front 2) .  Will Lavagne use these ideas?

Possible team: Ndy Assembe; Benoit Angbwa-Joel Matip, Georges Mandjeck – Allan Nyom; Landry N’Geumo, Enow Eyong, Alex Song; Samuel Eto’o, Choupo Moting, Jacques Zoua.

The Lions ready to go again?Cameroon’s head coach Denis Lavagne has named a squad of 28 players for a series of friendly matches slated in November.

The Indomitable Lions will play against Sudan and Morocco in the LG Cup on before flying to Algiers for a friendly with the Desert Foxes of Algeria.

Lavagne has handed a first call up to Spain-based Allan Nyom. The 23-year-old defender was born in France and started his career at AS Nancy before moving to Arles-Avignon. He then moved to Udinese in Italy which  loaned  him to Spanish Primera Liga side Granada FC.

Tunisia based defender Yaya Banana has also been offered a first senior call-up. He was part of the Junior Lions team that reached the U-20 World Cup quarter-finals this year.

The squad released on Thursday includes mainly players based out of Cameroon, except goalkeeper Jean Efala of Fovu Baham. Cameroon’s league is yet to kick-off for a new season.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Georges Mandjeck and Somen Tchoyi who were absent from Javier Clemente’s recent lists, have all been recalled. But there was no place for Sebastien Bassong.

Media reports in Cameroon say Lavagne will hold a news conference in Yaounde on Friday. He’ll use to opportunity to discuss his plans with the team and also explain his team selection.

Here’s the full list:

  1. Guy Roland NDY ASSEMBE, AS Nancy-Lorraine, France
  2. Idriss Carlos KAMENI, RCD Espanyol Barcelonea, Spain
  3. Jean EFALA KOMGUEP, Fovu de Baham, Cameroon
  4. Benoît ANGBWA, FK Anzi Makachkala, Russia
  5. Allan NYOM, Granada FC, Spain
  6. Nicolas NKOULOU, Olympique de Marseille, France
  7. Aurélien CHEDJOU, Lille Olympique SC, France
  8. Georges MANDJECK, Stade Renais, France
  9. Dany NOUKEU, Gaziantesport,Turkey
  10. YAYA BANANA, Espérance de Tunis, Tunisia
  11. Benoît ASSOU-EKOTTO, Tottenham Hotspurs, England
  12. Gaetan BONG, FC Valenciennes, France
  13. Henri BEDIMO, Montpellier, France
  14. Joël MATIP, Schalke 04, Germany
  15. Alexandre SONG, Arsenal, England
  16. Eyong TARKANG ENOH, Ajax Amsterdam, Holland
  17. Landry NGUEMO, FC Girondins de Bordeaux, France
  18. Benjamin MOUKANDJO, AS Nancy-Lorraine, France
  19. Jean II MAKOUN, Olympiakos, Greece
  20. Edgard SALLI, AS Monaco, France
  21. SOMEN à TCHOYI, West Bromwich Albion, England
  22. ANDONGCHO MBUTA, SC Dinamo Bucarest, Rumania
  23. Jacques ZOUA, FC Basel, Switzerland
  24. Samuel ETO’O, FK Anzi Mackachkala,Russia
  25. Vincent ABOUBAKAR, FC Valenciennes, France
  26. Eric Maxim CHOUPO-MOTING,FSV Mainz 05, Germany
  27. Léonard KWEUKE, AS Spartak Prague, Czech Republic
  28. Bienvenue NTSAMA, Fenerbache, Turkey

Denis Lavagne has been named interim head coach of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions. He is at the helm of a three-man team that includes Martin Ndtoungou Mpile as deputy head coach and Pierre Mbarga as goalkeeping trainer.

Their mission is to qualify Cameroon for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted by South Africa. In order words, they must succeed where the previous staff headed by the Spaniard Javier Clemente failed.

Clemente and his assistants Francois Omam Biyick and Jacques Songo’o were sacked on Tuesday for failing to qualify the Lions to the 2012  Africa Nations Cup  in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Is this 47-year-old Frenchman the right man for the job?  Was he appointed simply because he is a foreigner willing to stay in Cameroon as some pundits have claimed in the media? (Listen to him speak moments after his appointment).

Lavagne was an assistant coach at four clubs – Nimes, Bastia, Valence and Bezier – in France’s lower leagues. He then became head of the academy at Sedan football club in France and Qatar Sports club in Qatar. He landed at Cotonsport Garoua in Cameroon in 2007 after a brief assignment in China.

He led Cotonsport to a number of championship victories as manager and then became the technical director of the club’s academy. After a short break-up with the Cotonsport management he returned as a Manager, a position he held until his appointment to the Lion’s Den.

Cameroon’s football legend, Roger Milla, does not believe winning national championships with Cotonsport is enough to make Lavagne a good coach for the Lions. Some Cameroonians think the Frenchman is a light-weight with regards to the calibre of players Cameroon has (many of whom play for top clubs in Europe).

The Frenchman told national radio that he would prove his worth on the field. His supporters highlight his understanding of the mentality of Cameroonian players and the politics that goes on in the national team. Big names like Paul Le Guen, Arthur Jorge and Clemente did not have this knowledge which explains their faliure, it is argued.

Cameroon’s most successful expatriate coaches have generally been unknown prior to their arrival in the country, according to a Cameroon football official we spoke to this afternoon.

Claude Leroy, who led the Lions to victory in 1988 at the Africa Cup of Nations; Pierre Lechantre who did the same in 2000 and Valery Nepomniachi,who was in-charge when the Lions reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990; had little pedigree before they landed in Cameroon, he explained.

WHAT ABOUT NDTOUNGOU

Yet, several TV pundits and newspaper columnists believe that the job should have been handed to Martin Ndtoungou (Lavagne’s deputy) who  is more experienced in managing national teams.

Ndtoungou was Winfried Schaffer’s assistant in 2003 when the Lions reached the finals of the Confederations Cup in France. He is a three-time winner  (as assistant in 1999 and 2003 and as head coach in 2007) of the Gold Medal at the All Africa Games with the U-23 national squad. He won the Olympic Gold Medal in 2000 as Jean Paul Akono’s assistant and led the U-23 squad to the quarter-finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This year he was in-charge of the Junior Lions (U-20) team that finished second in the African Youth Championships and led them to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Columbia.

He knows almost all the players who are vying for a place in the national team because he has been their trainer at youth or senior level. Why Ndtoungou accepted to be an assistant  is a mystery to many.

The 53-year-old told national radio that he discussed with Lavagne, the Cameroon Football Federation and the Ministry of Sport and decided to put a hold on his personal ambitions (to be head coach) for the good of Cameroon football.

The football official we spoke to said this was Cameroon’s form of a Jurgen Klinsman and Joachim Loew tandem as Germany operated between 2004 and the end of the 2006 World Cup.

“Loew was clearly more experienced and tactically stronger but Klinsmann had that punch and determination to make a name that uplifted the Germans,” the official who did not want to be named  said.

“We hope that would happen for us and by the way it is an interim appointment which means the door isn’t closed,” the official added.

Whatever people’s personal views, Denis Lavagne is now in-charge. Hopefully, Cameroonian sports reporters and pundits would switch from debates over race and the nationality of the coach to discuss his tactics and concept of football.

Is he a defensive or attack minded coach? Does he prefer 4-4-2; 4-2-3-1;4-3-3; 3-3-1-3; 3-4-3 or 4-5-1?  Does he prefer his teams to play direct football or does he insist on construction from the back with short-passes in tight spaces?

Last year the media forgot about these things when Clemente was named only to become surprised and disgusted over the Spaniard’s ultra-defensive approach whereas that was the man’s identity – known to all specialists.

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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.

Cameroon’s U-20  national football team reached the final of the African Youth Championship where they lost to Nigeria on Sunday. At a time when most of the country’s national teams are faltering, it is easy for fans to be carried away by euphoria.

Cameroon supporters welcome Lions in Dakar on 24 March 2011, GF

Yes, the team was generally good – tactically well organised, disciplined, athletic and rigorous under the masterful leadership of Martin Ndtoungou Mpile.

Their primary objective was to qualify for the U-20 World Cup, which they did. In the process, they reached the final of the Africa Youth Championship (a secondary objective) and did their utmost to try to win it.

NO CREATIVITY

It is a functional team with Cameroon’s  trademark  mental strength and  fighting spirit (evident in their come-back in the final against Nigeria). They certainly made Cameroon media and fans happy via their victories.

However, a youth team is not essentially about winning; it is often about development.

For years now, Cameroon has had problems producing creative and skilful attackers, offensive midfielders and wingers. Unfortunately, this team did not reveal players who could potentially supplement the deficiencies of the senior teams in such departments.

Did we see  a potential Samuel Eto’o , Patrick Mboma and (I dare-say) Roger Milla in that Junior national squad in South Africa? No. The team was not clinical in-front of goal. They relied on set-plays (free-kicks and corners) to score except in the final when they had their backs to the wall.

The most promising striker was Ohandza Zoa. He has a good work rate, partcipates in defensive duties but he must improve his first touch, his positioning, the timing of his runs and his finishing. To his credit he did score two goals whereas the likes of  Jacques Haman, Toko Edimo and Tageu were woeful in this aspect.

In the 80s and 90s,  Louis Paul Mfede, Djonkep Bonaventure, Ernest Ebongue dazzled defenders on the African continent (and even on the world stage) with their displays on the flanks. Since they retired we have struggled on the wings with the notable exception of the period when Salomon Olembe and/or Lauren Etame Mayer – used their speed and power to outpace opponents.

Did we see new wingers from the junior team that competed in South Africa? Not quite.

Cotonsport Garoua’s Edgar Salli, who was used on the left and right flanks,  was surely Cameroon’s most brilliant player at this tournament. He seemed to be the best crosser of the ball (from open and set play). Yet he looked laboured at times and gave the impression of being a relay midfielder who had been stuck on the wing because there was no one else capable of doing the job.

In many ways,  Salli reminded me of Geremi Njitap who could play on the flanks but was originally (and naturally) a N°8. There was little to write home about the others who played on the wings.

MORE DEFENSIVE TALENT

Whereas the likes of Theophile Abega, Gregoire Mbida (Arantes), Tokoto, and (if we stretch it) Cyrille Makanaky used to weave creative magic in the middle of the pack to link to attackers, such players have gradually disappeared from our national teams. The closest we’ve seen since include Simo Augustine (in the late 1990s) , Marcus Mokake (who never succeeded to encrust himself to the team), Daniel Ngom Kome and Achille Emana (who dribbles but finds it hard to be effective).

Did we see people capable of holding the ball, creating the chance and make the right passes to Samuel Eto’o, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Vincent Aboubakar or even Ohandza in the future? No.

As noted repeatedly on this blog, the Junior Lions passed the ball well from defence to midfield; they effectively harried their opponents and recuperated the ball but the transmission in the final third of the field was awful.

In effect,  the best players in this Junior Lions  squad were the central defenders (Yaya Banana and Mvom Meyo), and the central midfielders (Eric Nyantchou and Frank Kom)  which follows a common pattern in the past 10-15 years : physical, athletic, never-say-die central midfielders and central defenders.

They will add to the dozen or more people who are currently ahead of them: Stephane Mbia, Nicolas Nkoulou, Sébastien Bassong, André Bikey, Enoh Eyong, Aurelien Chedjou, Georges Mandjeck, Jean Makoun , Landry Ngeumo, Alex Song, Joel Matip…etc

THE GAME PLAN

Many would argue that this is the typical Cameroonian player: big, strong, and mentally tough! It has been so, since Claude Le Roy (and western European coaches) took over the mantle in the national team as from 1985. It became even more the case when most of the development players (through football academies and newly created clubs) became essentially targeted to an international market  that requires big, physical, combative lads.

But it wasn’t so in the period of the Yugoslav trainers of the 1970s who worked to rebuild the national team through the local clubs. The process which led to the first qualification to a World Cup in 1982 and a first Africa Cup win in 1984 with a set of players who combined skill, power, creativity and improvisation.

It was Issiar Dia’s dribbles that broke the Lions’ defence for Demba Ba to score for Senegal on 26 March 2011 in Dakar. Who unlocks compact defences for Cameroon and picks the right pass for Aboubakar, Webo, Eto’o  and Choupo-Moting?

It is the second consecutive U-20  final that Cameroon is losing  and on both occasions the opponent rose to our physical challenge and had the additional spark and genius – Andre Ayew (Abedi Pele’s son) for Ghana in 2009 and Kayode for Nigeria in 2011 – to inflict harm (goals). Where are our creative men?

Maybe the take home message from this tournament is that Cameroon (technical directorate) needs to re-think its football to include style,finesse and flair to the steel that is already available; failing which, at best  we shall continue to be runners-up and at worst fail to qualify to any tournaments.

Cameroon beat the Gambia 1-0 to kick-start their CAF under-20 Africa Cup of Nations campaign in South Africa on Monday. The boys coached by Martin Ndtoungou Mpile were tactically disciplined, controlled most of the game and could (should) have won by more goals were it not for poor finishing and a really bad pitch.

Ndtoungou Mpile set the squad in a 4-4-2 and seemed to have insisted on the boys playing their way up-field instead of flinging long balls over the midfield (as has become common-place among many Cameroon national sides).

The team was compact when it lost the ball with all-four midfielders – Edgar Sally (on the right), Atouba Emane (on the left), Frank Kom and Nyantchou (in the centre) – chasing and harassing the Gambian players for the ball. The two attackers also put pressure high up the field when Cameroon lost possession, pushing the Gambians to skip their midfield via long-balls which were easily managed by the  Cameroonians.

Cameroon’s goalkeeper, Jean Konguep, spent long-spells of the game as a mere spectator. He was only startled back to life at the 72nd minute when he hesitated to come for the ball leaving a Gambian attacker the chance to shoot. Konguep parried the ball away but it fell to another opponent leading to some panicky clearance by the defence.

Both teams were, however, hindered by the poor playing surface. It looked like a farm overrun by a herd of cattle in the rainy season.

It appears all the teams play on the same turf.  Nigeria had beaten Ghana 2-1 on the same ground a few minutes before Cameroon and the Gambia locked-horns.

Yet, Cameroon constantly created movement on the flanks where the full-backs often surged forward through overlapping runs that created passing possibilities for their offensive and midfield team mates.

This hallmark of teams coached by Ndtoungou Mpile, ran the Gambians ragged particularly on the right flank where the full-back Serge Leuko and the offensive midfielder Edgar Salli seemed not to notice the state of the pitch.

Leuko, who plays for Levante in Spain, is one to watch because he is playing in position where there seems to a drought in quality for Cameroon for years.

On the left-flank Atouba displayed a very high work rate while Edimo Toko who replaced him in the dying moments of the game exuded sleekness and better technique. This showed in a brilliant run into the 18-yard box which ended with hard tackle from a Gambian defender. The Cameroon bench asked for a penalty but only got a corner – one of the dozen the team won.

But most of Cameroon’s possession was missused by strikers who  shot when they had to pass, and passed when it was time to shoot. Cameroon scored from a set-piece at the last minute of the first-half which is  testimony to their wastefulness in-front of goal in open-play.

The goal was scored by Cotonsport Garoua’s Edgar Salli whose hopeful kick was fluffed by the Gambian goalkeeper and dropped into the net. Ndtoungou Mpile must work on his team’s finishing before their next game against a very brilliant Nigerian side that gave the reigning African and World Champions, Ghana, a run for their money.

Between the 70th and 80th minutes the midfield had a serious deep in energy levels creating space for the Gambians who had their best spell in the game. Cameroon escaped that time because of it’s centre-back pairing – Yaya Banana and Ghislain Mvom – who played for the U-20s at the World Cup in 2009. They were calm and confident but they weren’t really tested by the Gambians – that won’t be the case against Nigeria.

It was good to watch a team coached by Ndtoungou Mpile again. He was Winfried Schaffer’s assistant when the Indomitable Liosn reached the final of the Confederations Cup in 2003.He has twice been involved in qualifying Cameroon for the Olympic Games (was Akono’s assistant in the 2000 gold medal winning squad) and has won the All Africa Games gold medal with the u-23 in 2007.

His 2008 crop of Olympic Lions were a blend of steel and beautiful play. It is surprising that authorities decided to demote him to the U-20s. The fact that his, is the only Cameroon national team to have qualified for a tournament this far is a vindication of his prowess.

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