Georgia held Cameroon to an insipid goalless draw in the Indomitable Lions’ practice match after 5 days of camping in Austria ahead of the World Cup in June.
The Cameroon head coach had insisted that it was a “training” game and not a full-blown friendly but few fans are ready to view this match from that perspective. They have been bitter on internet forums about the performance. Beyond the emotions – what did we learn?
Paul Le Guen used two separate set of players in each half of the game but maintained a 4-3-3 formation which confirms that it will be the Lions’ shape at the World Cup.
The defence played as a unit and kept a clean sheet. But they still need adjustments in areas such as ball distribution by the centre-backs to start-off moves from behind . They were looping many long balls to the front in an old-fashion route-1 system.
In the first half the half-backs (Marcel Ndjeng and Boucar Makadji) made few runs to the front to support the mid-fielders and attackers as is required in a 4-3-3. Abouna Ndzana (Astres, Douala) showed readiness to surge forward during the second half but he was often caught tactically napping, forgeting his defensive tasks.
While transmission from defence to midfield was successful as the holding midfielder in each half (Alex Song in the 1st and Joel Matip in the 2nd) made themselves available to receive the ball, linking up to the forward line was a real sham. There was an absence of penetrative dribbles, change of pace and acceleration by the midfielders, who often passed back to their defenders.
On the night, it could be seen as an individual issue with fingers pointed at Jean Makoun and Patrick Mevoungou (Canon Yaounde) or Geremi Njitap and Georges Mandjeck for not doing their relay jobs. But this lack of creativity and disconnection between the midfield and the attack has been a problem since the AfCON.
The players consitently made the wrong runs or remained static which killed any fluidity and movement from defence through midfield to attack. Had the Georgians been more deadly, they would have finished-off the Lions.
The attack-line was silent. The ball hardly reached Achille Webo, Idrissou Mohamadou and Dorge Kouemaha in the first half. Their technical ineptitude also meant when they dropped deep or wide in midfield positions, they could not control and keep the ball.
Personally, I think the aforementioned trio all have the same profile and play as N°9 in their clubs which put a huge limitation to their effectiveness on either wings. Dorge Kouehmaha came out as the most bruised by this performance. It would not surprise me if he does not make the trip to South Africa.
The key scoring opportunities came from long balls to the tall Idrissou whose heading was really poor. Cameroon has to return to playing on the ground as it did against Austria in August 2009 and the games against Gabon in September of the same year.
This was a practice session to see some of the new people called to camp with the Lions. Le Guen did not play 6 men (Mbia, Assou-Ekotto, Enoh, Eto’o, Emana and the goalkeeper) who started the game against Italy in March – whereas he has repeatedly said except for 1 or 2 changes that line-up would be the preferred squad in South Africa.
Le Guen contends the less than average showing was due to the heavy physical fitness programme his staff has handed to the the players.
Curiously, he opted to play a host of players out of their usual positions: an offensive midfielder,Ndjeng, played at right-back, a usual right-back Makadji started at left-back and while Landry Nguemo held the right of his forward trio as was the case against Tunisia in the AFCON. This dealt a blow to their performances. Interestingly, he played Geremi in his debut position of N°8, the one he held at Newcastle United. Is this something he is seriously considering? Will he stop those experiments as from tomorrow?
Meanwhile, Joel Matip with his telling passes to the left and right and just ahead of him (to Georges Mandjeck) made a strong impression in that anchor role in front of the defenders. Alex Song on the other hand was guilty of ball retention for too long. He is good but gives away the ball cheaply. That needs to be fixed.
Have we gained something in the 5 days of the camp? Would the lessons learnt from facing Georgia be useful? The game against Slovakia on Saturday will tell.