Category: African Football


Samuel Eto’o has announced that he is retiring from international football barely a few days after he was left out of a new look Cameroon squad and replaced as captain ahead of two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in September.

“I wish to inform you that I hereby put an end to my international career. On this occasion, I wish to thank all Africans in particular and all my fans to around for their love and support,” a statement on the player’s Official Facebook page said on Thursday.

Eto’o who  joined English Premiership side Everton on a free transfer this week made his debut for Cameroon in an international friendly against Costa Rica in 1997. He was the youngest player to feature the World Cup in France in 1998. His big break on the international scene, however, came in the 2000 Africa Nations Cup when he starred alongside Patrick Mboma in the forward line of Cameroon’s title winning

Samuel Eto'o at a press conference in Dakar

Samuel Eto’o has said his final goodbye to the Indomitable Lions?

team.

He was part of the team that won an Olympic Gold Medal in Sydney in 2000 and went on to win a second Africa Cup in a row (Cameroon’s fourth) in 2002.

While he remains Cameroon’s all time best scorer at national team level, he continually faced criticism that despite his individual success (he is a four times African Player of the Year) and the trophies he won at club level in Europe (he won several Spanish league titles with FC Barcelona, two European Champions League trophies with the Catalan giants before adding a third with the Italian side Inter Milan) Cameroon stagnated at international level.

Troublesome Genius

He was often accused of fomenting trouble in the Cameroon dressing room, clashing with his team-mates, coaches and the country’s football authorities. Some suggested that he was the main protagonist in the row over World Cup participation premiums which led to Cameroon players refusing to board a flight to the World Cup in Brazil.

Although the Cameroon coach Volker Finke attributed his decision to leave Eto’o out of the squad to rejuvenation of the squad and also because the player had no club (at the time the squad was named), several Insiders felt the striker was paying the price for his role in that pre-World Cup farce and the disastrous campaign that followed.

Eto’o had in the past been suspended from the team for leading a player strike in 2012 when the Lions refused to play a friendly against Algeria over a row related to participation premiums.

Notwithstanding his rumored negative spots, Eto’o remained a real talisman for the Cameroon team and possibly the country’s most talented player at the moment. He will be missed by Cameroon, not for the goals he scored but more for his playmaking ability which were more apparent when he played for the national side.

In fact, he was rarely used as a central striker by most coaches from 2004, often deployed to the left or right of a three-man attack or as a playmaker behind the main striker.

It is the second time that Eto’o looks set to abandon the national colors. The difference this time though is that he made a formal announcement which wasn’t the case in late 2013 when it was rumored that he quit the selection.

He will be replaced as national team captain by Stephane Mbia who was appointed by the Cameroon minister for sport on Monday. Eric Choupo-Moting and Vincent Aboubakar were named vice-captains.

Meanwhile, veteran Cameroon midfielder Jean Makoun has also announced his retirement from international football. He had also been left out of the squad as Cameroon tries to rebuild after two humiliating World Cup participations in 2010 and 2014 and failing to qualify for the last two Africa. Cup of Nations tournaments.

Each time the Indomitable Lions qualify for a tournament, Cameroonian singers and musicians get to work composing songs to the glory of the team.

The FIFA World Cup 2014 has inspired many of these artistes. Using multiple genres including Cameroonian Makossa and Bikutsi through to jazz-fusion, they sing: ‘Allez les Lions’ or ‘Go Lions’ and seem to believe that they will win. Here’s a list of six songs are released this year to celebrate the Lions:

1. Cameroun Wake Up – Co-written and performed by Conti Billong and Imke Mueller; featuring Manu Dibango: There’s a touch of Makossa as well as Jazz and funk to this tune. It is one of my favourites.

2. On Va Gagner (We’re Going to Win) by Armand Laklass : is a hot Makossa/Couper Decaller fusion. The sort of song that will get people dancing in clubs across Cameroon but also in other parts of West/Central Africa.

3. Venez Celebrer (let’s party/celebrate) by The 4 : captures the current spirit of popular music by young Cameroonians . It’s a blend of hip hop and local beats sung in French, English, Pidgin English and Camfranglais. This gives a flavour of the country’s linguistic diversity.

4. Allez Les Lions (Go Lions) by Askia featuring J Milly: also draws from what youngsters enjoy listening to.

5. In the Game by Duc Z featuring Stanley Enow : Produced by Orange mobile phone network which is one of the ‘Top Sponsors’ of the Indomitable Lions. Beyond the subtle marketing objective, it is worth listening to; especially as it features one of Cameroon’s top hip hop/rap talents of the moment: Stanley Enow.

6. Pala Pala by Bikutsi songstress Mani Bella isn’t really a football song. However soccer fans have taken to the song’s beats to produce a video to celebrate the Indomitable Lions.

There are several more songs that I couldn’t feature in this list. The question that comes to mind, though, is what happens after the competition. There are some songs to the glory of the Indomitable Lions that have stood the test of time.

One of them is Marie Arcangello’s Allez Allez Les Lions (it’s English version is Forward Forward Lions) released in 1990 ahead of the World Cup in Italy. It has basically become an anthem that is played just before National Anthem each time the Indomitable Lions play at the Yaounde stadium.

But most of the songs disappear especially after a poor showing by the team. Does anyone remember “Lions Indomptable” by Patou Bass in 2010?

Maybe these artistes should wait until the tournament is over to release a song. That way, if it is a successful campaign their song will remembered forever.

For instance, I continue to hear Pepe Kalle’s ‘Roger Milla’ played on radio stations and at parties around South Sudan. The song was an ode to the Lions by a Congolese artiste after the team reached the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1990.

That’s a plan!

It was supposed to be a day of celebration. June 8, exactly 24 years to the day when Cameroon scored a memorable victory against Argentina the then holders of the World Cup. Phone companies and local sports officials had planned to ‘triumphantly’ lead the new pride of  Indomitable Lions to the plane that was to take them to  the World Cup in Brazil. Well, the squad didn’t turn up. They refused to fly to Brazil until a row over match bonuses was resolved. They only left the country around 5:45  in the morning of 9 June.

Haven’t we heard this before?  Cameroon sports officials and players not in agreement over bonuses before or during a FIFA World Cup.  Even that famous victory over Argentina in Italia 1990 (which sparked a historic run to the quarter-finals) was obtained amid disputes over match bonuses between the players and authorities from Cameroon’s sports ministry and the football federation.

“[Bonuses were] discussed until the eve of the opening match (against Argentina),” said Bertin Ebwelle, Cameroon’s left-back at the tournament in Italy. “I can assure you that the discussions were rough and it wasn’t until 5 a.m. that the last player received his bonus,” he told Camfoot.com recently.

Four years later, the players spent sleepless nights arguing over bonuses and the Lions crashed out of the competition after suffering heavy defeats in the hands of Brazil (3-0) and Russia (6-1).

Yet, Cameroon did not learn.

In 2002, possibly the best Indomitable Lions squad since 1990 refused to board the flight that was supposed to take them to Japan for the World Cup except a row over bonuses was resolved. They ended up staying for days at an airport hotel and arrived behind schedule. The Indomitable Lions, then African Champions, were bundled out of the World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Ireland, a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia and a 2-0 defeat to Germany.

Fast-forward to 2014. Cameroon had just started their pre-World Cup training camp in Austria when media reports suggested the players were locked in a row with the country’s football authorities over bonuses. Both sides sought to downplay the seriousness of the issue until it boiled over on Sunday.

After the ‘industrial action’ by the players the federation announced in a statement that the issue had been settled, claiming that they had to draw from private loans to get the money to the players. Really?!

This team qualified for the World Cup in November 2013. Both the authorities and the players know the history surrounding bonuses.  What were they doing in the past 6 months? Why must every participation at the World Cup turn into a farce over something that could be agreed months earlier?

Officials blame the players for asking too much and insisting on being paid before delivering a service. They think the players are going to ‘unpatriotic’ lengths (i.e. refusing to play matches or fail to board a flight) to negotiate their demands. There are conspiracy theories in the media that these demands are linked to internal politicking with some players trying to bring down the federation.

Some in the media have questioned why a team that has not won any major tournament in the last decade should be making such high claims for match bonuses. Others have asked if the players will refund the money taken in advance, if they crash out of the tournament. Many wonder why the government should be paying footballers close to FCFA 50 million each  in a country where  swathes of the population go without clean drinking water or electricity?

Whatever the case, this bonus saga is a complete disgrace for the players, the officials and the country.

“This issue has to be resolved once and for all,” Ebwelle said. That way, players know from the qualifiers what they are going to earn at the World Cup… that way a player can decide whether he wants to go to the World Cup or not. If he decides to go, then he accepts what the nation offers him,” he added.

According to Jules Denis Onana, another 1990 World Cup veteran, negotiations over match bonuses in Cameroon are always tense due to the mistrust between the two involved parties, especially as the players increasingly feel officials use funds that accrue from tournaments to line their pockets instead of investing the money into the development of football in the country.

“Negotiations will always be difficult where there is no trust,” Onana wrote in an open piece published on Cameroon-footbuzz.com. “All that is needed to ensure that footballers and officials can negotiate in a peaceful climate, is a little more transparency around the source, allocation, and use of funds,” the former centre-back, now turned player agent, said.

Will Cameroon learn?

 

Cameroon’s Sebastien Bassong says despite perennial off-the-field issues, the Indomitable Lions hope to perform well, especially with Samuel Eto’o in the mix, at the soccer World Cup that kicks-off next June in Brazil.

The centre-back who captains Norwich in the English Premier League told a British TV network that his national team captain Eto’o, often accused of being divisive, must be part of the World Cup squad and will come good.

“He’s got to go to the World Cup. We will find a way to co-habit. Even if some people don’t like the fact that he is going to be there, we all want the same thing: Cameroon to do well,” Bassong is quoted as saying in excerpts of the TV interview published in The Guardian newspaper.

“Samuel is a huge player for us, a huge character in the country – the most famous person after the president. Our pressure compared to him is nothing. But he’s born to handle that,” the 27-year-old Bassong said.

Bassong partnered Nicolas Nkoulou in central defence for Cameroon at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but has since fallen behind in the pecking order due to a combination of injuries and form issues. With his regular starts and strong displays for Norwich, many observers expect him to return to the Lions’ den to fight for place in the World Cup squad.

That would be another opportunity to team up with his friend and colleague Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Both men played for Tottenham Hotspur (and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon) before the quest for regular football led Bassong to Norwich while Assou-Ekotto is on loan at Queen’s Park Rangers in the English second tier league.

Sebastien Bassong (R) and his pal Benoit Assou-Ekotto (L) while on national team duty with Cameroon

Sebastien Bassong (R) and his pal Benoit Assou-Ekotto (L) while on national team duty with Cameroon

Bassong shares hilarious anecdotes about Assou-Ekotto who is famous for saying publicly that he is playing football because it’s a money-making job.

“For him, it’s a job. I played with Benni at Spurs and in the national team. He used to not even know who we were playing against. Sometimes he would say about opponents or team-mates in the national team when the squad was changing, ‘Bass, who’s that?’, ” Bassong said.

“The best one I remember about Benni was when we were having the team photo at Tottenham and he arrived late….Rafael van der Vaart had just signed and I was next to him. So Benni was shaking hands and when he got to Rafa, he shook his hand, stood still and looked at him. And then he asked me in French: ‘Who’s that?’ I said: ‘It’s Van der Vaart.’

“Benni said: ‘OK, nice to meet you.’ Harry [Redknapp, the Spurs manager] had to explain. He told Rafa: ‘Don’t worry, he doesn’t know who you are, he doesn’t know anything about football, but he’s a great player.'”

Assou-Ekotto’s tells it as he sees it and doesn’t fakes things as is common in football circles which surely explains why the deeply religious Bassong rates him as a friend.

“I believe in God and read the Bible everyday,” Bassong says. “There are some days when your faith goes down a little bit, for whatever reason, but it’s always there. It’s a big part of my life. Football is a different world. The way I see football … there is loads of fake. You’re not living in the real life. For me, the real life will start when I stop playing football.”


Read the full story in The Guardian  here. The excerpts are based on an interview with BT Sport which is the UK’s newest sports TV service, with three channels showing a host of sport, including live top tier action from the Barclays Premier League, with 38 exclusively live matches.

Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play their first competitive fixture under new manager, Volker Finke, on Sunday against the Sparrow-hawks of Togo. The German-born trainer has been working with his squad in Yaoundé since they returned from Kiev where they played a goalless tie with hosts Ukraine in an international friendly on 2 June.

Here are three (3) aspects of Finke’s football philosophy that we should be watching out for come Sunday afternoon:

  1. A High Pressing Game

Volker Finke is known in Germany as one of the leading lights of the high pressing game which he instigated and sustained during his 16-year tenure at SC Frieburg. A lot of Germany’s current crop of coaches including Jurgen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund, Joachim Löw (the German national team coach) and Ralf Rangnick are recognised as following in Finke’s footsteps.

British football writer Jonathan Wilson wrote recently in the Guardian about Finke’s approach:

At Freiburg, Finke became noted as a pioneer of pressing in Germany – which was oddly late to adopt the practice – and achieved notable success with a small budget as a result. Whether he will have the time to instil a similar style of play at Cameroon is doubtful, appealing though the idea of them becoming the Chile of Africa may be, but he will at least be tactically imaginative.

Finke is so keen about high pressing, quick passing and movement that he has specific  training drills as he described here during his time as coach at Urawa Diamonds in Japan:

That was training for players to learn how to approach various types of situation during the game. For example, when players lose their ball, types of approaches the team should take and in what timing they should start giving pressure change depending on where they lose their ball such as center or side. As such, I decided that the team lost their ball where the player whose name I called was standing. Players then had to figure out how they give pressure as a team and who takes the initial approach. It was training taking real match situations into consideration. It might have seemed as a new type of training. By having more and more of these kinds of training sessions, I believe that the team will be able to improve to perfection level….

He continued:

…I can say that pressing does not necessary start from a player who is closest to the ball. This is because there are many different types of situations during matches. In some cases, no pressing is done or other players start the pressing. Being able to make the right kind of move at the right timing regardless whether there is a ball or not is part of the talent. I consider this as one of the exceptional abilities. Even when players train themselves seriously for several months with a very professional attitude, some may not be able to get it completely right. Making the right decision according to the given situation and play for the team is one of the important elements as well as a talent. When a player is truly gifted, he often has an excellent strategic mind as well.

2. Fluid Tactical Options

I didn’t watch the Cameroon’s game against Ukraine last week and had to rely on match reports from on-line Cameronian media. Each one seems to have seen their own formation. There were those who thought Finke played a 4-3-3 while others said the team played a 4-2-3-1 formation.  We may come to expect more of that from the Lions Den. Rather than sticking to a single plan Finke works by adjusting the formation to the demands of the game and opposition he faces.  The key aspect is to build carefully and break with speed and accuracy.

Finke once said:

It’s boring to switch flanks and knock the ball from one wing to the other. We build through the middle, where there is little space. You play three or four short passes to lure the defense into what they think is the danger zone. And then you suddenly open up the game over the flanks – that’s what is really dangerous.

The key for him is playing beautiful attacking football as reported in this post in The Hard Tackle:

Finke helped a lowly regarded team with limited quality resources to qualify for Bundesliga’s top tier and managed them to finish third in the next season with his version of concept football – a thoroughly drilled, collective movement at a high tempo. During that time Freiburg were known as Breisgau Brazilians for their wonderfully pleasing and technically superior style of football that saw them pass the ball both artfully and precisely.

3. Focus on the Team and not Individuals:

Cameroon football forums are full of discussions about the impact the  absence of the Lions’ captain and talisman Samuel Eto’o may have on the team. The level of anxiety seems to have shot-up following the draw against Ukraine in which the young strikers reportedly failed to impress. Finke believes in team work rather than individuals. It is up to those who would be given the chance to play in the absence of Eto’o to give it their best shot as a team for Cameroon. Here’s a popular quote from Finke that could help calm the nerves of some fans:

“I don’t want team leaders. That’s a line of thinking that buries other players’ strengths. Our playing system does not depend on the individual.”

Will Finke’s ideals work with Cameroon – a team so used to playing deep and soaking up pressure to strike via counter-attacks? Does he have the players to match his philosophy and work ethic?  It would be too much to expect magic on Sunday but hopefully we could have a glimpse of the new Cameroon.

Cameroon’s national soccer team the Indomitable Lions must defeat the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde by at least three clear goals on Sunday to obtain a ticket to  South Africa for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Cape Verde beat Cameroon  2-0 last month in the first-leg encounter.

The thought of missing a second AFCON in a row has led to desperate moves from the government, football officials and fans.  Authorities sacked the French-born coach who was in-charge of the team and installed Jean Paul Akono barely days after the defeat. Akono then pushed authorities to convince the team captain Samuel Eto’o to return to the squad after he suspended his international career last month.

He  picked several players who featured during his spells as head coach of the U-23 (Olympic) Lions and the senior Indomitable Lions between 2000 and 2004.  Achille Webo, Modeste Mbami, Pierre Wome, Jean Makoun, Angbwa Ossomeyong have not been in the den for a while but the Olympic Gold Medal winning coach thinks their experience will be a deciding factor in the weekend’s duel. The media thinks it is a sign of desperation.

Who knows? The coach may be banking on the views of Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century British Prime Minister, novelist and bon viveur who once said that “desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.”  Cameroon’s fortunes depend on Akono’s tactical genius.

Akono favours playing a high defensive line with  attackers and midfielders who harry and press opponents throughout the game. Can his “experienced players”  have the energy and fitness levels required for this?

According to reporters who have observed the team train all week, particularly the practice match against local (division 3) side  on Wednesday, the coach is plotting a flat 4-4-2 formation. He has regularly started with Idris Kameni as goalkeeper,  Angbwa as rightback and Wome as leftback; a very young central defence partnership of Guy Armel Kana Biyick and Nicolas Nkoulou. He has played with Alex Song, Jean Makoun, Idrissou and Mevoungou in midfield while Achille Emana or Eto’o and Webo have played as strikers.

MIDFIELD DIAMOND

On the overall scheme of things, Akono seems to be respecting his promise to set-up an attack-minded team (they beat the local side 5-1).  But a few things seem unclear, though. Is he playing an old-fashioned 4-4-2 with a double-pivot (of Makoun and Song) in central midfield and traditional wingers? Who are the wingers? Idrissou can put a shift on the left but his crossing is awful (he’s a striker) while  Mevoungou and Emana don’t enjoy playing on the flanks. How he tackles the issue would determine the attacking flow of the game.

If Cameroon must play a 4-4-2 formation,  I believe they are more suited to operate with a ‘diamond’  midfield due to the lack of true wingers among the current crop of players. They have hardworking midfielders to intercept (break-down) moves by opponents and shuttle from box-to-box. They also have relatively good  fullbacks who can  overlap to provide width rather than forcing reluctant central midfielders and  strikers into becoming the wingers.

For instance, they could start with:  Kameni (gk) – Allan Nyom or Angbwa (RB) and Wome (LB); Kana-Biyick (CB) Nkoulou (CB) in defence.  A midfield diamond with  either Alex Song or Joel Matip sat deep in space in-front of the back-four, Makoun a little ahead  to the left, Mevoungou or higher up on the right and Overtoom  at the tip of the diamond, behind Eto’o  or Achille Emana and Webo.

However they choose to play (and I won’t be surprised to see them playing a 3-5-2 formation with Kana, Nkoulou, Chedjou or Matip at the back) it won’t be a ride in the park. Cape Verde have been training as well and are so good that they outplayed Cameroon in Praia.

Cameroon have been down this road before. Eight veteran Lions visited the current pride to share their experience of backs-to-the-wall games. Roger Milla (CAF African Player of the 20th Century), Joseph Antoine Bell (1984 & 1988 AFCON winner), Theophile Abega (1984 AFCON winning captain), Bonaventure Njonkep (1984 AFCON winner) and Victor Ndi Akem, Eugene Ekeke and Thomas Libih (1990 World Cup quarter-finalists) sought to pass on the indomitable spirit of the past.

But what will be the story by 6p.m. on Sunday? Will fans be celebrating as wildly as they did on 10th October 1993 after Cameroon defeated Zimbabwe 3-1 to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.?  Will Eto’o and Webo be weeping inconsolably on the turf of the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium as they did after the  Lions drew 1-1 with Egypt on 8th October 2005 and failed to reach the 2006  World Cup in Germany?

It’s been a while since I posted on the blog. Travel, work and more are to blame. Many things things have happened since the last post. Off the top of my head, here are a few of the occurrences:

The Lionesses were at the Olympics where they suffered defeat after defeat. The reserve or home based Lions were in India for the Nehru Cup and finished second in a tournament they were expected to win. Samuel Eto’o declined to play forthe Lions who went on to lose 2-0 to Cape Verde.

Denis Lavagne got the boot and Jean Paul Akono returned as head coach about 10 years after he ’twas hounded out of the same job by unhappy Cameroonians.

The government has ordered or gone on its knees (depending on how you perceive things) to request Eto’o’s return to the Lions’ den. Eto’o met the PM, the new (old) coach Akono, the team manager (former captain/Eto’o’s rival/ Eto’o’s friend of the 1984 gang) Rigoberto’s Song and the Minister of Sport Adoum Garoua.

Union sportif Douala crowned champions of Cameroon in TV pundit Frank Happi’s first season in-charge as chairman of the veteran club!

And Jean Paul Akono decides o name several veterans in his 26-man squad ahead of the home game against Cape Verde….
Woof!!!! So much has happened then… Well, I’m back with a few niceties. I’ll be using tools like audio blogs, and storify to make quick posts and curate stuff for you in case I’m held up by work and can’t post a full write-up.

Start by taking a look at the Storify piece on reactions on twitter after Akono’s released his list. http://storify.com/gefsoutlook/akono-s-lions-of-cameroon
Merci.

Cameroon defeated Guinea Bissau 1-0 in Yaounde to sneak into the final round of qualifiers for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa.

The Indomitable Lions were held on their own turf for 81 minutes by a resilient Guinea Bissau side until forward Benjamin Moukandjo beat goalkeeper Jonas Mendes following a cross from the left flank by substitute Yannick Ndjeng.

“They played with eight players in the defence and it was difficult for us,” said Martin Ndtoungou Mpile, Cameroon’s deputy head coach. “But at the end we won,” Ndtoungou added in a post-match interview with Cameroon’s State-run TV (CRTV).

While the coaches and the players were visibly satisfied with the result,  pundits on TV and Cameroonians reacting on internet forums have expressed disgust at the quality of play served by the Lions. The team had the ball possession and made endless passes in midfield and outside the Guinea Bissau penalty area but lacked penetration.

The final ball was poor and the finishing from some of the players was near abysmal. The few fans who had turned up to watch the Lions at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium were so disgusted with some of the misses that they spent their time chanting the name of “Eto’o,” the suspended skipper of the national team.

Head coach Denis Lavagne would surely point to the fact that Cameroon played higher up the field than in any other game under his tenure but critics would argue that this was against a weak Bissau team that had come to defend and left the ball to the Lions (who visibly didn’t know what to do with it).

Pundits remarked that the team still couldn’t find a working link between midfield and attack with Alexandre Song, who had to play that role, missing in action for much of the game. Some of his best through balls were made when he was playing from a deeper position than that of the anchor behind the strikers.

Henri Bedimo, the left-back made a number pf overlapping runs and some crosses in what seemed the only other means of outwitting the Bissau side. Georges Mandjeck, the midfielder who plays as right full-back under Lavagne, made a few forward runs as well but nothing really happened until the coach substituted the big centre-forward, Leonard Kweuke.

Ndjeng, who replaced Kweuke, was more mobile – dropping deep and making runs across the area – to drag the opposing defenders out of position. He was assisted in this by Vincent Aboubakar who (controversially) replaced Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, the team’s current goal-poacher. Aboubakar dribbled and took the game into the opposing area but his finishing was sub-standard mainly due to his over-exuberance.

There was relief for the Lions when Ndjeng centred from the left for Moukandjo to score after what seemed on television like the ball had touched the Nancy striker’s hand.

Cameroon go through on a 2-0 aggregate since they had also defeated Guinea Bissau 1-0 in the away leg game played in Bissau last February.

It was Lavagne’s third 1-0 victory in four competitive outings as Cameroon coach. He has only lost one game (2-1 to Libya) since taking over in October/November 2011. But the near empty stands were very telling about what Cameroonian fans think of their national squad these days.

NB: Cameroon’s starting line-up [playing 4-3-3].

GK: Idriss Kameni

RB: Georges Mandjeck; LB: Henri Bedimo; CB: Nicolas Nkoulou (capt.) and Aurelien Chedjou

Midfielders: Stephane Mbia, Alex Song, Landry Ngeumo

RF: Choupo-Moting; CF: Leonard Kweuke; LF: Benjamin Moukandjo

Substitutions:

-Yannick Ndjeng in for Kweuke

-Vincent Aboubakar in for Choupo

-William Overtoom in for Moukandjo.

UPDATE: Libya defeated Cameroon 2-1 in a 2012 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Sunday. Click here for six reasons why the Lions lost

Nicolas Nkoulou returns in the centre of Cameroon’s defence as the Indomitable Lions take on Libya’s Knights of the Mediterranean this Sunday, according to Cameroon media reports. Nkoulou, who had an impressive debut season for Marseille in the French Ligue 1,  was forced to watch his teammates beat Congo (DRC) 1-0 due to an injury.

Cameroon players training at Sousse in Tunisi

Cameroon players training at Sousse in Tunisia ahead of the game with Libya. Photo credit (hand-out): Linus Pascal Fouda (Team Press Officer)

He teams up with Lille’s Aurelien Chedjou to form what is looking like Cameroon’s favoured centre-back pairing. They played together versus Mauritius in Yaounde (under Javier Clemente) and against Guinea Bissau (under Denis Lavagne in Bissau). Nkoulou’s return means Dany Noukeu, who partnered Chedjou in Yaounde versus the DRC, drops to the bench.

Leonard Kweuke is the other played dropped from the starting eleven that played against the DRC . The big striker  has been replaced by Valencienne’s Vincent Aboubakar. The young Aboubakar is quicker, more technical  and can play in a wide position. With him on the pitch, it is evident that the coaches have gone for Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting as the main striker.

The left-back, Henri Bedimo,passed a fitness test and keeps his position. As such there are no other changes from the team that played last week. It is expected that the team would operate in coach Lavagne’s preferred  4-3-3 formation.

Here’s the complete starting eleven:  Goalkeeper: Idris Carlos Kameni

Defence: Georges Mandjeck (RB) – Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Aurelien Chedjou (CB) – Henri Bedimo (LB)

Midfield: Landry Nguemo – Stephane Mbia – Alex Song

Attack: Vincent Aboubakar (RF) – Choupo-Moting (CF) – Benjamin Moukandjo (LF)

The match kicks off at 1600hrs (1700hrs in Cameroon) according to the BBC. The game will be played in Sfax, Tunisia for security reasons.

It was late. Barely two minutes to the end of regular playtime in a drab game between Cameroon and Guinea Bissau. The young Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting, tired of hugging the touchline waiting for passes that never came, decided to take things into his hands.

He drifted into the centre of the park, collected a loose ball and drove straight into the opposition area. A quick touch took away three defenders, he raced and hit the ball. A low drive that bumped on the synthetic turf and beat the Guinea Bissau keeper. 1-0 for Cameroon and a winning start to their quest to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations to hold in South Africa.

You could see relief on the faces of the Cameroon coaching staff  including – the Team Manager (logistics officer) Rigobert Song who at times barked more orders than the manager Denis Lavagne.

The Indomitable Lions  had shown very little creativity in the previous 88 minutes. If that surprised anyone, it shouldn’t be readers of this blog. A reading of the 22 that the coach picked for this trip had exposed the dearth in creativity (read our previous post here) facing Cameroon. Too many defensive players, hardly any creators.

It was so glaring in Bissau as Lavagne’s 4-3-3 failed to click.

Lavagne had gone for a back four of – Allan Nyom (RB) -Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Aurelien Chedjou (CB) – Henri Bedimo (LB). The midfield three included Joel Matip sitting deep in-front of the back four , while  Alexandre Song and Landry Ngeumo played as shuttlers/organisers with the job of linking up with the attackers – Choupo Moting (R) – Vincent Aboubakar (C) and Jacques Zoua (R).

Song and Nguemo tried to engineer movement by making forward runs and passes but these (admittedly gifted)  players found it hard to switch from the defensive roles they usually play for their clubs to become clairvoyant playmakers. This left a complete disconnect between the lines.

Unable to move the ball forward from the back and handicapped by the plastic turf that gave a funny bounce to the ball, Cameroon reverted to playing long-balls forward. It wasn’t easy on the eye. There were a handful of chances but nothing to whet any observers apetite.

Lavagne could argue that the team had only a day to train. That is true. He could also argue that the squad is very young. That is also correct. He could also say that it isn’t his fault that Cameroon doesn’t really produce many creative players. That is also understood. But he needed to have thought through this game properly because all of those excuses were known long before the team travelled.

He showed poor decision-making when he opted to field Choupo-Moting – the only player with a measure of creativity, passing skill and scoring ability – on the right flank. He could have actually gone 4-2-3-1 and played Choupo-Moting behind the main striker as Javier Clemente had realised. Yet another option could have been to use a diamond formation with the same players though Aboubakar and Zoua would have functioned as a strike partnership and Choupo-Moting as a playmaker behind them.

It is only when Choupo-Moting dropped deep and played in the hole behind the forwards that Cameroon managed to look interesting. But that was rare. Fortunately for them, the Mainz player scored on one of those occasions.

But some of the young players were a let down. Was it the heat?  Was it the fact that it was the first time all were playing together in a starting line-up?

Whatever the case, Vincent Aboubakar,  still has some way to go to become the finished product to spearhead Cameroon’s attack. He still has problems in his movement without the ball. He needs to improve his tactical awareness (making good runs or anticipating passes).

There were several times in the second half when Song conjured up some defence splitting through-balls but Aboubakar was always off the mark. There was a close-up shot of Song shaking his head in despair at the 63rd minute after one of such missed opportunities.

Jacques Zoua, who made a beautiful assist for his club FC Basle against Bayern Munich, struggled on the right flank. And when he had a glorious opportunity at the 60th minute , one-on-one with the goalkeeper to head home the curtain raiser, he wasted it with a tame effort.

Edgar Sali came in for Aboubakar at the 61st minute while Leonard Kweukeu replaced Zoua four minutes later. The substitutes didn’t create much, though.

However, these are all young players who have the potential to become great with the right coaching and context. They could learn a lot from a player like Samuel Eto’o if and when he ever returns to the den.

For now, the youngsters and their coach can thank Choupo-Moting for saving them from the wrath of a demanding fan base. Cameroonians know their team is not at its best these days but they would have found it hard to accept a 0-0 draw with the team ranked 166th in the world (i.e. 100 places below Cameroon ranked 66th).