Joel Matip is the only Cameroon international who came out smiling after Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League quarter-finals as his German Bundesliga team thrashed reigning European Champions, Inter Milan, 5-2, with the teenager scoring.
Matip played in central defence for Shalke 04 (as Gef’s Football Club had said) and not only contributed to prevent Samuel Eto’o from scoring, but also pushed up front to score an equaliser from a corner-kick in the 17th minute of play. Inter Milan had snatched the curtain-raiser through a Dejan Stankovic master-stroke barely 30 seconds into play.
Diego Milito took the Italian and European Champions ahead (2-1) but Matip and Shalke 04 did not give up. They equalised and managed to score three more goals.
Eto’o and his Inter Milan team-mates would have to score 4 goals without conceding any in Germany in a fortnight to bar Shalke from reaching the semi-final. The Cameroon captain who shot blanks in this encounter would have to produce the magic he displayed in Munich last month against Bayern to dig his club out of this one.
In the meantime, it is still bewildering that Cameroon’s Spanish-born coach thinks Matip is not worth a call-up given the boy’s versatility and competitiveness. Nurtured as a central midfielder, Matip has played this season as a centre-back (that was the case on Tuesday), right-back and even right-winger. He may not be full of muscle but he is calm, clean, good with the ball and effective.
In the other first-leg quarter final game, Benoît Assou-Ekotto, another player who seemed to be overlooked by the Cameroon manager until authorities intervened, was also defending his club colours on Tuesday. Sadly his team, Tottenham Hotspur, were handed a soand whipping in Spain where they lost 4-0 to Real Madrid.
Real Madrid were better in most of the sectors and though Assou-Ekotto showed few moments of brilliance, the overall Spurs display was dismal and they deserved to lose. They need to beat Real by a five goal margin on the return-leg to go through.
Sebastien Bassong, the other Cameroon international who plays for the north London team, came in at the 80th minute of play. The manager had preferred Frenchman Gallas in the centre of defence from the start. He may be regretting that decision after watching Real’s Togolese striker, Emmanuel Adebayor out-jump Gallas to score his brace.
Not a night of greatness for Cameroon’s representatives in the UEFA Champions league then – except for Joel Matip, of course.