Cameroon under new head coach, Javier Clemente, started their 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers with a 3-1 defeat of Mauritius on Saturday in Port Louis.
Team captain Samuel Eto’o scored twice while Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting sealed the game for Cameroon via a penalty kick after he had been heavily brought down by a Mauritius defender.
In-between Eto’o’s goals, Mauritius scored from the penalty-spot through Jonathan Bru but the islanders hardly perturbed the four-time African Champions who were intent on forgetting their woeful World Cup in South Africa.
Tactically, the Lions were deployed as a 4-4-2 while Mauritius chose to play in a very defensive 4-5-1. In principle this meant that the Lions were out-numbered in the midfield but it was practically not the case as Samuel Eto’o regularly dropped off the front line to play as an advanced midfielder in the hole between the midfield and the attack. This left Choupo-Moting as the furthest man forward and gave the impression of a 4-4-1-1.
Eto’o’s deep role not only added an extra man in midfield, it also drew his markers out of position and released Marcel Ndjeng (offensive midfielder) on the right and Henri Bedimo (offensive midfielder) on the left. Cameroon’s early goal scoring opportunities effectively fell to these men (Ndjeng in particular) who often cut into the 18 yard box to occupy the spaces abandoned by the sloppy Mauritius defence.
However, Ndjeng missed two inviting opportunities (a poor kick and a weak header) while Bedimo’s cut-backs (crosses) into the heart of the Mauritius defence lacked precision.
The Lions dominated possession with short, quick inter-positional passes and brilliant approach play on the ground although the pitch was awful. They pressed high-up with their defenders practically playing near the centre-line.
There was real cohesion given that the eleven players (N’Dy-Assembe, Nkoulou, Bassong, Binya, Assou-Ekotto, Chedjou, Makoun, Bedimo, Ndjeng, Choupo-Moting, Eto’o) who started the game were same as those who were at kick-off in Cameroon’s 3-0 victory over Poland in an international friendly in August.
They were however caught by a rare Mauritius counter-attack after a really poor pass by Jean Makoun in the midfield leaving his centre-backs in limbo. Nicolas Nkoulou made a hash of his duel with the attacker resulting in a penalty and the host team’s lone goal.
Clemente didn’t change his men at the break but he made a slight re-organisation with Eto’o playing alongside Choupo-Moting in the early stages of the second half. It was in that position that the Inter Milan striker received a beautiful pass from Bedimo and slotted his and Cameroon’s second goal.
The final15 minutes of play saw improved passing and dribbling from Cameroon as Eto’o dropped into “the hole” again (and often on the left of the attack) to support Vincent Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting and later Bienvenu Tsama. Aurelien Chedjou and Enoh Eyong (who replaced Bedimo) were impressive in their midfield roles of recuperation and relay.
Sadly, the finishing remained lacklustre. The coaches would have to tackle that aspect of Lions’ game before the next encounters. Mauritius came to defend and didn’t look like they had any hopes of winning; that would surely not be the case against Senegal and Congo (DRC).
Meanwhile, the Lions are too dependent on their left flank for creativity and punch. Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Bedimo make a very interesting partnership switching between left-back and left-midfield positions; Gilles Binya and Ndjeng need to match this on the right.
Binya (a defensive midfielder in his club) is reluctant to overlap as normal full-backs would do. Ndjeng is technically adroit and knows when to cut into attacking positions to take up spaces left by attackers (Eto’o and Choupo-Moting) but must improve his speed and precision in-front of goal.
There was very little defending to do but the central defence partnership of Bassong and Nkoulou looked rusty at times. Both players have not seen a lot of first team football at their European clubs and that was evident in their lack of pace during rare incursions by Mauritius’ attack-line. Their technique, composure, tactical intelligence and positional awareness compensated this time around but they must be sharp in the coming matches.
The game was not exceptional or memorable, except (maybe) for Samuel Eto’o who scored his 50th goal in a Cameroon shirt on the day of his 100th cap. However, on a weekend which saw France beaten at home by Belorussia (0-1) and Portugal held to a 4-4 draw by lowly Cyprus, it was good to see the boys win.