Are the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on the path to resurrection after a farcical World Cup campaign? After Vincent Aboubacar and Clinton Njie each scored a brace to enable Cameroon defeat the Ivory Coast 4-1 in an Africa Cup of Nations 2015 qualifier, there are many in the soccer-mad country who think so.
Playing the Ivory Coast was supposed to be the big test for Volker Finke’s new look Indomitable Lions. Yes, they may have defeated the Leopards of the Congo (DRC) in Lumumbashi but could they cut it against a star-studded Ivorian team including Yaya Toure, Gervinho,Bony, Arthur Boka, Soulemane Bamba, Cheikh Tiote? Well, Njie, Aboubacar, the impressive young goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoua and the rest of the Lions didn’t really care.
Cameroon playing dominated the early exchanges. Georges Mandjeck who wasn’t at his very best in Lumumbashi upped his game in central midfield alongside the ever combative Eyong Enoh, quickly seizing control of that vital part of the pitch. This allowed Choupo-Moting to stay closer to Aboubacar who this time around kept his game simple and efficient. On Cameroon’s left flank, Njie gave the Ivorian right full-back a torrid time. The young forward breezed past his marker on several occasions and his beautiful runs created openings for a quick back to front transmission of the ball.
It is such a blistering counter-attack move that led to the opener after a poorly constructed Ivory Coast corner routine led to a clearance and a quick pass up front for Cameroon. Njie artfully controlled with a back-heel volley then drilled a shot which was deflected into the net. He scored another after a similarly well constructed move down the left but it was ruled out for offside.
The Ivorians got back into the game forcing the Lions to defend deep and close to their 18-yard area. Gervais Yao aka Gervinho looked a real menace down the left flank but their equaliser came from a move on the opposite side. A shot was poorly handled by Ondoua and Yaya Toure who had slipped away from his markers struck home for 1-1.
It was possibly Ondoua’s last error in the game. The young man from FC Barcelona’s ‘B’ or academy side had a stellar performance after that blip particularly in the second half. Before the first half ended though, Cameroon was already leading 2-1 following a well taken goal by Aboubacar who concluded a beautiful move and classy pass by the ever elegant Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting.
While commentators and pundits were expecting an Ivorian come-back, it was Finke’s lads who inflicted a killer blow on the much vaunted Elephants of Ivory Coast. Around the 55th minute, an Ivorian player clattered Choupo-Moting who was forced out of play. Finke quickly asked for a substitution. The Lions who had a obtained a throw-in, waited for Leonard Kweuke the substitute to come on. His first touch was to chest down the ball from the throw to Njie who passed it on to Aboubacar for his second and Cameroon’s third goal.
That effort was beautiful but the best goal of the day was scored by Njie who received a great reverse pass into the 18-yard from Aboubacar. The young Olympique Lyonnais forward chested the ball and took it on the volley with his left foot past the stunned Boubacar Barry in the Ivorian goal. Njie’s celebration was even better. He remained on his knees looking blank as if he had done nothing to the point that one TV commentator thought the goal had been ruled out.
The Indomitable Lions should have scored more. Kweuke hit post while Edgar Salli who had come on for Njie missed a one-on-one. The Ivorians tried to score a consolation but their attempts including a fantastic free-kick by Yaya Toure were all plucked and saved by Ondoua who once again justified his selection ahead of the more experienced Ndy Assembe. It ended 4-1 in favour of the new look Lions against the much fancied Elephants
With two games played, six goals scored, one conceded and six points in the bag Cameroon are top of their group. The DRC that defeated Sierra Leone 2-0 in the other game in the group have 3 points as do the Ivory Coast but the Congolese have a better goal difference. Should Cameroon win both its games against Sierra Leone in October they would have qualified to the African Cup of Nations for the first time since 2010.
Amid the euphoria that has followed these two victories Cameroon must remember that qualification is still to come. Games are won on the pitch and not before they are played. As Finke mentioned in a pre-match press conference, winning games is good but (re)building a new squad is even better. That process is still on.
For instance, Aboubacar improved his all round play and Njie showed better defensive cover than was the case versus the DRC. He made passes when he had to and shot at the right moments which contributed in Cameroon’s better performance. Stephane Mbia committed fewer fouls while Georges Mandjeck displayed the skills that made him such a great prospect when he burst in the limelight back in 2008 with the junior and under-23 teams. The full-backs Jerome Guinota (right) and Oyongo Bitolo also stepped up their game.
It’s certainly not perfect but maybe Finke is on to something with this pride of Indomitable Lions.