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.”

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