Archive for September, 2014

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. 

When Cameroon take on Cote d’Ivoire in an Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2015 qualifier this Wednesday afternoon in Yaounde, they will be fielding the same eleven players that started in the country’s 2-0 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last Saturday.

This will see Fabrice Ondoa in goal, Nicolas Nkoulou and captain Stephane Mbia in central defence while the full-backs will be Oyongo Bitolo (on the left) and Jerome Guihota on the right.

Former vice-captain Enog Eyong will partner Georges Mandjeck in central midfield. Benjamin Moukandjo and Clinton Njie who scored the curtain-raiser in Lumumbashi will play on the flanks (often switching) while Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting will be an advanced midfielder cum play-maker and support behind the lone strker Vincent Abubakar.

Cote d’Ivoire to start with a very experienced squad including Yaya Toure of Manchester City and Gervais Yao (Gervinho).

Côte d’Ivoire : Barry – Bamba – Aurier – Kone Lamine – Boka Junior – Toure – Tiote – Akpa Akpro – Gradel – Gervais Yao – Wilfried Bony.

Clinton Njie Scores on Debut as Cameroon Defeat Congo 2-0

If Cameroon were to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations to hold in Morocco next year, Clinton Mua Njie who scored the curtain raiser for Cameroon against the Democratic Republic of Congo will feature as the man who set the ball rolling for the ‘new look’ Indomitable Lions.

The 21-year-old sprinted from the right flank during extra play time in the first-half, collected a through ball from Vincent Abubakar and fired past Congolese keeper Idiaba to mark his first international cap in style.

The Olympique Lyon forward was one of four youngsters who were handed their international debut by head coach Volker Finke as the German seeks to rebuild a new Cameroon national team.

Oyongo Bitolo at left-back, Jerome Guihota at right-back and goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoua were the other debutants. All of them showed promise and determination but it was Njie who quickly caught the eye. Playing on the wide forward/midfield positions he combined beautifully with Eric Choupo-Moting and Vincent Abubakar. However, he scuffed two beautiful chances that came his way in the first-half before finishing superbly to give Cameroon a deserved lead.

Sluggish Leopards

Cameroon didn’t need to show much to be on top of the game though. The Congolese were not a the races despite playing at home on the synthetic turf with confusing lines at the TP Mazembe Stadium in Lumumbashi. They hardly combined well and barely tested the Cameroon’s teenage goalkeeper Ondoua who is still an academy boy at FC Barcelona in Spain.

The Indomitable Lions weren’t brilliant too. Benjamin Moukandjo and Vincent Abubakar kept on with their usual habit of dribbling well but finishing poorly. The new skipper Stephane Mbia, who partnered former vice-captain Nicolas Nkoulou in central defense, picked up an early yellow card for a rash challenge. Enoh Eyong and Georges Mandjeck took a while to wrest control of the midfield. But once Cameroon settled they never really let off again.

The Congolese stepped into the second half with a determination to equalize but they squandered chances or were denied further progress from the reinvigorated Nkoulou and impressive goalkeeping from Ondoua.

Maestro Choupo-Moting

Cameroon countered with speed and Eric Choupo-Moting delivered a good performance as a playmaker. He distributed the ball well, changed the tempo when it was required and surged forward to create attacking moves.
He was key to Finke’s fluid 4-2-3-1 formation which often morphed into a 4-2-1-3 when Choupo-Moting dropped into a more traditional number 10 role.

This was exemplified in the move that led to the second goal. It started with Choupo-Moting in midfield, a quick exchange with substitute Leonard Kweukeu who served Abubakar on the right side of the 18 yard area. The new FC Porto man dropped a shoulder, switched to his left foot, took aim and beat the Congolese goalkeeper at the 82nd minute. 

The rest of the game was very much like a stroll for the Lions who looked Indomitable this time around. Does this mean Cameroon is back? Not quite. The DRC Leopards were just poor. Some of the mistakes from Cameroon’s full backs or the centre midfielders would be punished by a better side. However, this victory should not be scoffed at. It is a first step. How the Lions fare against the Ivory Coast on Wednesday in Yaounde will be something to watch.

Score: DRC 0 -2 Cameroon

Cameroon’s head coach Volker Finke has handed senior international debuts to four youngsters in his starting team to face the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier this Saturday in Lumumbashi, according to media reports. (Read full match report here)

If news filtering in from Congo is confirmed, Joseph Fabrice Ondoua from FC Barcelona’s academy will start in goal ahead of the more experienced Ndy Assembe who was at the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup in 2010. There are also starting berths for Oyongo Bitolo, the former under 20 left-back who plays in the US for New York Red Bulls, as well as Jerome Guihota who plays for Valencienne in France. Forward Clinton Njie who has been rising within the ranks at Olympique Lyon in France also gets the nod as Cameroon seeks a fresh start after a woeful World Cup campaign last June.

Stephane Mbia (R) is now Cameroon's team captain  with  Choupo-Moting (L) his 1st deputy as manager Volker Finke attempts another new dawn for the Indomitable Lions.

Stephane Mbia (R) is now Cameroon’s team captain with Choupo-Moting (L) his 1st deputy as manager Volker Finke attempts another new dawn for the Indomitable Lions.

In what is likely to be 4-2-3-1 formation, the new captain Stephane Mbia is expected to partner Nicolas Nkoulou in central defence; Enoh Eyong and Georges Mandjeck, who is returning to the den after a hiatus, will feature in central midfield while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting should play as the central attacking midfielder/support forward behind the main striker Vincent Abubakar. It is expected that Clinton Njie and Benjamin Moukandjo will play in the wide attacking/midfield positions.

More than 70 percent of the 24-man squad that traveled to Lumumbashi for the game was not present at the World Cup in Brazil where Cameroon lost all their three group games, conceding eight goals and scoring just one. Prominent among the absentees are stalwarts such as Samuel Eto’o, Achille Webo and Jean Makoun who have now retired from international football.

Cameroon’s German-born head coach Volker Finke, who survived the torrent of changes that swept through the team after the dismal World Cup campaign, is cautious. During a pre-match press conference on Friday, he warned fans to expect a difficult journey ahead as the team embarks on (yet another attempt at) reconstruction. He said:

“Its true that there are many new players and many young players. That means that we need a little bit more time…Today, I can say for such a short time, it was a good atmosphere, everybody did a good job, but it is not a guarantee for a win. But if we continue to do like this, I’m sure we will have good results. May be [Saturday]it will be difficult, but in future, we will have good results.”

With very little time to train, Finke had to go for a blend of on and off regulars with some of the new talent that he has called up. Here’s what Finke said about working with new and older players:

“I think we did the best because it’s a really good atmosphere. All training sessions were in a really good spirit, good discipline, and also, I saw that among the players, they started a good communication. And this is something we need. We need good communications between young players, older players.”

Should fans expect a change of tactics?

Finke stuck to 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 throughout the World Cup in Brazil even when it looked too defensive or demanded players to curtail their attacking instincts. My view is that the team will play as a 4-2-3-1 which allows Choupo-Moting to play in the central role behind the main striker (that is if he is not the main striker). He is good on the wings but I feel it’s a waste to shunt him out there, like an auxiliary full-back, the way he was used at the World Cup.

Probable line up?

Playing 4-2-3-1:
Fabrice Ondoua (GK); Jerome Guihota (RB) – Nicolas Nkoulo (CB) – Stephane Mbia (CB) – Oyongo Bitolo (LB); Georges Mandjeck(CM) – Enoh Eyong (CM); Benjamin Moukandjo (AM) – Choupo Moting (CAM) – Clinton Njie (AM); Vincent Aboubakar (Striker)