Category: CAN 2012


Cameroon absent but represented at CAN 2012

I have not lost my memory or gone mad. I am aware that Cameroon did not qualify for the African Cup of Nations that kicks-off this Saturday in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. However, there are a handful of players originally from Cameroon who are representing other nations at this tournament.

The bulk of the ex-Cameroonian contingent will be defending the colours of co-hosts Equatorial  Guinea. Five members of their 23-man squad — Narcisse Ekanga (midfield), Thierry Fidjeu (forward),  Douwala Ellong (forward), Raul Juan Maximo Eyama (midfield) and Achille Pensy (goalkeeper) — hail from Cameroon.

Ekanga, who plays his club football for TP Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had played for Cameroon at U-17 and U-20 levels but with so many central midfielders ahead of him in the pecking order, it is no surprise that he was willing to switch nationalities.

The young goalkeeper Pensy also featured for the U-17 Lions at some point in his young career while Thierry Fidjeu waited in vain for a call to bolster the Indomitable Lions attack before settling for the Nzalang.

There’ll certainly be families jubilating in Douala, Bafoussam and Yaounde should the Nzalang Nacional score a victory over  the Knights of the Mediterranean (formerly known as ‘Greens’) of Libya in the tournament’s opening game.

Nzalang Nacional fans would surely be hoping that these Equato-Cameroonians would be as successful for their team as Lauren Etame Mayer, born in Cameroon to Equato-Guinean parents.  He played for the Indomitable Lions between 1998 and 2002 and won two African Cup of Nations and an Olympic Gold Medal.

AFRICA UNITED

It should be noted, however, that the Equatorial Guinea team also features players originally from Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. There are also a few ex-Brazilians, as well. All are naturalised and should bag home  the $1 million promised by the son of the country’s President, if they can win that opening game!

William Tondji Ngounou will be representing Niger. He is a striker who plays professional football in Sweden. He was born in Cameroon but left the country at the age of 10 to live in Niger with his Cameroonian parents. He has since opted to play for the Mena du Niger.

His national team mates include goalkeeper Dauada Kassaly and midfielders Abdoul-Karim Lancina and Idrissa Saidou who play their club football in Cameroon at Cotonsport Garoua.

Niger  held their pre-tourney training camp in Cameroon. They played a host of friendly games with local clubs and Cameroon’s national selection team of players based at home (or those who have yet to cross the border to play for Equatorial Guinea!).

Two other countries camped in Cameroon before the competition — Botswana and Burkina Faso (Their stay at the Kadji Sports Academy makes them a little Cameroonian, no?).

Burkina Faso could even have fielded another ex-Cameroonian in Herve Zengue who was surprisingly left out of the Stallions squad. Zengue, who is married to a Burkinabe citizen,  played for the Stallions in two qualifying matches against Namibia.

But the southern African nation  claimed was not eligible to represent Burkina Faso and asked for the West Africans to be disqualified. The matter was only recently decided against Namibia by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).  Sadly, by that time, coach Paulo Duarte had decided not to pick Zengue for the tournament.

Gef’s Football Club will provide tactical previews and  analysis of some of the games at this tournament.

British TV pundits praised Benoit Assou-Ekotto for his consistency at Tottenham Hotspur after the Cameroonian contributed to his club’s  2-0 defeat of Aston Villa on Monday.

Assou-Ekotto (with a new hairdo) didn’t look perturbed by news that the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) had summoned him to appear at a disciplinary hearing this week, for failing to join Cameroon’s national team at a camp in Morocco.

Has he ditched playing for Cameroon since February as a Douala-based TV station, Equinoxe TV, said on Monday? That story seems to be making the rounds in the  media.

But the facts of the story don’t match reality. If Assou-Ekotto ditched the Indomitable Lions since February (!!?), was it his clone that I saw playing at leftback  against Senegal on 26 March 2011?

Assou-Ekotto is second from left among players crouching as Cameroon players pose before playing Senegal in Dakar on 26 March 2011. Or was it his clone?

Who knows? The administrative hassles and unprofessional organisation surrounding the Lions could push the player into early retirement like Lauren Etame did in 2002. But it would seem (for now) that it was  Javier Clemente who sidelined the player for months. Here’s a timeline of events:

1. In February, Javier Clemente (then Cameroon head coach) does not pick Assou-Ekotto for a friendly against Macedonia. After some players fail to turn-up, the Spaniard hastily recalls the leftback. Assou-Ekotto does not respond to the call.

2. In March, Clemente does not select the leftback for the crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Senegal in Dakar.There is  criticism from the media, the fans, Fecafoot and Ministry of Sports officials. Reports say the coach feels undermined by the player’s refusal to come as a back-up in February. When it appears that Clemente’s preferred leftback Gaetan Bong is injured, the coach is seemingly pressured to recall Assou-Ekotto.

3. The player joins the Lions’ camp in Portugal and eventually plays against Senegal. The media in Senegal describe him as Ca meroon’s man of the match alongside midfielders Landry N’Geumo and Enoh Eyong.

4. In May Assou-Ekotto is picked by the national team trainer for the return-leg game against Senegal but he does not travel to Yaounde. N.B: The player was recovering from an injury sustained days before the game.

5. After the 0-0 draw that basically knocked Cameroon out of the race to qualify for the Africa Cup in 2012, Fecafoot summons Assou-Ekotto to a disciplinary hearing for not appearing for that game. The player does not physically appear for the hearing but reportedly forwards documents explaining he was injured.  The committee issues a warning.  The rule book says injured players must have their injuries confirmed/examined by the national team doctor.

6. In August, ahead of a supposed friendly against Salvador, Clemente does not name Assou-Ekotto in his squad. The match fails to hold, though.

7. In September, Clemente names the squad for the qualifier against Mauritius in Yaounde and a friendly (that did not hold) against Mexico in Paris but Assou-Ekotto is not selected. When pressed on local TV, Francois Omam-Biyick the then deputy head coach says Clemente is still angry about Assou-Ekotto’s failure to appear for the game against Senegal in June. Omam says, the head coach views such behaviour as  indiscipline.

8. In October,  Clemente selects the squad for the final Africa Cup qualifier against the Democratic Republic of Congo and a friendly against Equatorial Guinea but does not pick Assou-Ekotto.

9. With Clemente and his whole backroom staff sacked after the game against Equatorial Guinea, his successor Denis Lavagne names Assou-Ekotto in a team of 28 players for a series of friendlies in North Africa (versus Sudan, Morocco and Algeria).

10. Assou-Ekotto and several other players fail to make it to the camp in Marrakech in early November. The head coach Lavagne says Assou-Ekotto was injured.

“He (Assou-Ekotto) called that he was injured and that’s a shame because it is the third left-back who is injured,” Lavagne told Camfoot.com

Why then is Assou-Ekotto being dragged to the disciplinary council? Did the coach lie to the journalists? Is Assou-Ekotto charged for not showing up to have the team doctor to confirm his injury as Aurelien Chedjou and Nicolas Nkoulou did?

Why have Fecafoot not summoned Somen Tchoyi and Benjamin Moukandjo who were also reportedly injured but did not travel to Marrakesh?

Cameroon have won a friendly football tournament (LG Cup) after they defeated Morocco 4-2 during a penalty shoot-out. Both teams were tied 1-1 after regular play time and had to revert to penalties to have a winner as per the rules of the competition.

Denis Lavagne (left) and his assistant Ndtoungou Mpile (right) win first trophy but did they get their tactics right? (Photo by Linus Pascal Fouda, Team Press Officer)

Samuel Eto’o, Henri Bedimo, Dany Noukeu and Enoh Eyong scored their spot kicks for Cameroon while while Morocco missed two of theirs.

Cameroon may have won but Morocco were the better playing side for most of the 90 minutes (plus injury time). Their short passing was precise, with regular one-twos and give-and-go passes that ran the Cameroon midfield ragged.

The Atlas Lions (Morocco) also showed they had the capacity to switch their game, adding more penetration that took Cameroon’s midfield off-guard. This put the centrebacks: Georges Mandjeck (preferred to Joel Matip) and Dany Noukeu on the back-foot

The Indomitable Lions were playing a 4-3-3 where the fullbacks were expected to bomb forward to create width and support the attackers but Morocco played so high-up and at such high tempo that, Bernard Angbwa (right-back) and Henri Bedimo (Left-back) were hemmed-in for most of the encounter.

FIGHTING SPIRIT OVER TECHNIQUE

Two games in two days may have stretched the Indomitable Lions physically. They were forced (by a deluge of injuries) to start with the same that played against Sudan on Friday. However, in a very Cameroonian never-say-die spirit (which had been missing for a while) the team refused to lose.

By the 75th minute when Eto’o scored the curtain-raiser, the Moroccans had obtained 8 corner-kicks to Cameroon’s none. The Moroccans also squandered several goal scoring opportunities, often shooting wide but also denied by the impressive N’Dy Assembe in Cameroon’s goal.

Towards the last 15 minutes of the first-half and during a 15-minute spell before and after Eto’o’s opener Cameroon, however regained the upper-hand. Enoh, Landry N’Geumo and Alex Song fighting for every ball and blocking every space in midfield.

The technique from young Vincent Aboubakar and substitutes Edgar Salli and Jacques Zoua temporarily shifted the balance of power. Were it not for for a really poor final shot from Jean Makoun after a superb combination, Cameroon would have been 2-nil up before the Moroccans equalised.

The Olympiakos player who is not a first choice for Cameroon anymore surely lost the little sympathy fans still have for him.

RETURN OF THE 4-3-3 DEBATE

It is not unusual for Cameroon to win games and tourneys without being the most pleasing side to watch. The Junior Lions typified this Cameroonian quality during the African Youth Championships and the U-20 World Cup tournaments this year.

Nonetheless Cameroon fans have already started complaining about the 4-3-3 formation that coach Denis Lavagne is using. (Does that sound familiar Mr Le Guen?) Many have suggested on online forums that Cameroon hasn’t got the players for that system so the team should return to a  4-4-2  formation that will provide natural width.

I don’t really fancy Cameron playing a system that hinges on wide men. They do not have the players that Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Harry Rednapp’s Tottenham have got. Does Cameroon have Nani, Ashley Young, Gareth Bale and Lennon type players?

The country produces mostly players who feature in the centre of the pitch (centre-backs, central midfielders and strikers). Only the list of centre-backs and defensive midfielders could make up a squad:  Nicolas Nkoulou, Stephane Mbia, Aurelien Chedjou, Sebastien Bassong, Yaya Banana, Dany Noukeu, Guy-Armel Kana Biyick, Andre Bikey, Joel Matip, Alex Song, Eyong Enoh, Landry N’geumo, etc.

A DIAMOND COMPROMISE

Indomitable Lions coaches have resorted to playing systems where they can adapt some of the strikers as wide forwards (but not wingers) or playmakers or given creative roles to otherwise defensive midfielders.

This has usually meant playing formations such as 4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1 (a.k.a Christmas Tree) and 4-3-3. When they have tried playing 4-4-2, they have been forced to use fullbacks (such as Henri Bedimo) as wingers, drawing the ire of the same fans and media calling for a return to ‘simple ways’.

A compromise between playing 4-4-2 and fitting the kind of players at the disposal of Cameroon’s coaches would be to play a diamond midfield: a holding midfielder, a playmaker behind two strikers and 2 shufflers running the channels in midfield (playing narrow) but not wingers.

Although, I’d advise the managers to do things as they deem right for the team, they might want to try a diamond midfield against a relatively weaker opponent. Isn’t it one of  Martin Ndtoungou Mpile’s (deputy head coach) favourite formations?

However, there’d be little width except the fullbacks join in (requiring a lot of defensive and attacking duties for them). The game would be overly dependent on the playmaker being able to click creatively but also supporting the defence.

Javier Clemente: Was this his last game in-charge of Cameroon?

Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea played a 1-1 draw in an international friendly on Tuesday in Malabo. The Lions scored the curtain raiser through striker Leonard (Leonie) Kweuke before their hosts equalised. .

Cameroon coach Javier Clemente fielded a second-string team for this encounter apart from Alexandre Song who was duly withdrawn by the second-half to prevent him picking-up an injury.

Cameroon’s passing, especially in that second-half, was really woeful. Eric Djemba Djemba showed again that he doesn’t deserve to be recalled to the team, often losing possession as was the case against Mauritius and Congo (Kinshasa).

Abouna Ndzana, the young Astres Douala full-back who deputised at right-back, showed enthusiasm surging forward, but he was often caught out of position. His short-passing was unimpressive and he kept kicking the ball long to the forwards who were not the tallest in the world once Kweuke had been substituted.

The players generally looked tired and sluggish. This was not helped by the rugged play by the hosts whose tackles that gave a stop-start tempo to the game. It was unpleasing to watch.

A [particularly bad challenge against Kweuke forced the Cameroon coaches to replace him with Benjamin Moukandjo Bille just before half-time. His teammates got enraged when the referee didn’t whistle for a foul or warn the Equato-Guinean player.

The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations co-host showed determination and power which led to their equaliser. But they hardly ever got near to Jules Goda’s goal area on his 1st start for Cameroon.

Edgar Sali, who only five months ago was still playing for the U-20s, gave a good account of himself. However, his set-pieces were poorly taken whereas that is one of his strengths.

Will this be Clemente’s last game as head coach of the Indomitable Lions? The rumour mill has been grinding since Cameroon failed to beat Senegal in June.

The Spaniard however says he is there to re-build the squad and is in for the long-term with Cameroon regardless of the team’s failure to qualify for next year’s AfCon tournament.

The re-building process continues next month when Cameroon plays two international friendlies against Ivory Coast and Algeria. Will the Spaniard be in-charge then?

Cameroon knew they were not going to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) even if they defeated the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). All they wanted was a win to end the qualifiers with pride; which they did by beating the DRC 3-2 in Kinshasa on Friday.

Very little noise was made before the game. Even Paul Biya who so often presents the team as an example for the country’s youth to emulate, didn’t include them in his campaign speeches in the run up to Sunday’s Presidential Election.

Anyway, that was when the Lions were truly Indomitable and won most of the times. In reality,  though, it is now that the Indomitable Lions are really epitomising Cameroon: a country with great potential, talented human resources (at home and abroad) but lacking leadership and infested by bad governance. (We’ll come to that further down this post).

Return to 4-3-3

Cameroon were missing a flurry of players including  Stephane Mbia, Aurelien Chedjou, Benoit Amgwa, Joel Matip  who are out injured. As a result coach Javier Clemente played with a defence line which had never played together .

Enoh Eyong who is normally a midfielder had to start at right-back, Sebastien Bassong partnered with Nicolas Nkoulou in central defence for the first time since the 1-1 draw with the DRC in October  last year in Garoua; and Gaetan Bong held his role at leftback as was the case in the past two games.

Clemente opted for a midfield trio in which Eric Djemba was the holding midfielder infront of the back four; while Landry Ngeumo and Alex Song worked the channels. The latter was so advanced in the first half that he had a hand in Eto’o’s equaliser (1-1) and hit the cross-bar after a beautiful give-and-go with Eto’o a few moments later.

But the team looked disjointed on several occasions and Djemba was a weak link as in his defensive role. He was heavy and got beaten for pace most times the  Congolese started a fast counter-attack.

This exposed the centre-backs and added pressure on Enoh who was playing for the very first time at right-back. Bong was just on an off day and many fans on internet forums questioned why the coach had not called Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

All the Cameroonian players seemed to have problems with the artificial turf used for the game but this alone could not explain the number of poor passes in the first half and the misses by the attackers.

Mystery-man Adongcho

Mbuta Andongcho scores for Cameroon but has no club?

Moukandjo Bile who was playing wide on the right was particularly wasteful with the opportunities he had. Eto’o and Eric Choupo-Moting often interchanged roles as central striker and wide left forward and on several ocassions they sliced the Congolese but made a bad final pass.

It was only after Clemente substituted Djemba (replaced by Mbuta Adongcho) and switched formation to a flexible 4-2-1-3  (4-2-3-1) in the second half that cam,eroon seemed to control the game. By then DRC were leading 2-1 and had even managed to miss a penalty. The game was as tight as the scoreline.

Cameroon finally equalised through Adongcho who poked in a ball headed down by Nkoulou. Adongcho was again involved in the winning goal holding the the ball long enough to see that Choupo-Moting (who had started the move) got into a scoring position before passing the ball.

Adongcho is quite a mystery. I don’t know where he actually plays his football. Cameroon media say he is clubless and is struggling to get a move to Rumania. However, he seems to score every time he is given his chance to play.

The win must have been a relief for the players but they would certainly have many regrets. With the array of talent in the squad, it’s a shame that they are not going to be at the AFCON.

Bad Governance

This is down to bad management and leadership from sports officials in Cameroon and some of the senior players in the squad.

Cameroon’s sports authorities decided to recruit as head-coach, a Spaniard who stays in Spain and only flies-in when there is a game at hand. He seemingly has a pre-planned list of players that he picks regardless of whether they are in forme or even playing football at all.

These same authorities failed to deal with the inter-personal clashes that are said to have ruined the teams World Cup. They made an unofficial ban on some players, particularly Alex Song, only to realise when Cameroon was already limping, that these players were vital.

Bickering between Eto’o and Song poisoned the dressing room and left the team appearing on soap opera columns rather than on sports pages.

But how could fans expect a team operating in a dysfunctional set-up fraught with bad-governance  to perform well.

Hey! This is Cameroon – a country where a dead man was appointed as a as the head of a Division and the ruling party could appoint a dead man into its central committee. Why should a coach not name players who have no clubs in the national team?

Cameroon players have a spirit that pushes them to want to survive. It is the same spirit that is in the hawkers on the streets of Yaounde, the benskineurs (motorbike taxi riders) in Douala, Limbe and Bamenda and the high school graduate selling telephone top-up cards in Buea.

But there comes a time when even the fighting spirit can’t get you anywhere when there is dis-organisation and the absence of visionary leadership.

It happened in the post-1990 World Cup era and Cameroon failed to qualify for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations. It has happened again and they are out of the 2012 edition. But, shall they  ever learn?

Clemente talks tactics with Choupo-Moting at half-time of Cameroon v Senegal, Dakar, 26 March 2011

Samuel Eto’o, Mbuta Adongcho and Leonie Kweuke all scored for Cameroon when they beat Mauritius 5-0 but the most outstanding performer for the Indomitable Lions was Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting. He scored twice and tormented the opposing defenders for 90 minutes.

Choupo-Moting was the bright spot in a tedious first-half in which Cameroon could not break down the very defensive 4-5-1 (practically 4-6-0) formation built by the Mauritius coach.

Playing in a 4-2-3-1, as we had predicted, Cameroon were unable to start attacking moves from midfield as both central midfielders had difficulty being creative.

Head coach Javier Clemente would surely come under a barrage of criticism for choosing to play Alexandre Song and Eric Djemba at the same time.

His choice to go with Henri Bedimo, a defender (left full-back)  as part the three players supporting the main striker also backfired as the Montpellier man could not deliver the creativity and penetration required. Bedimo was substituted at half-time and his replacement,  Kweuke, scored barely three minutes into the second half.

By then, Clemente had moved Samuel Eto’o to the wide left position. The imposing Kweuke played as the sole front-man supported by the technically gifted Choupo-Moting. Eto’o dribbled with ease on the left and after a series of good moves with Choupo, the Anzhi striker made a superb pass for Mbuta Adongcho to score Cameroon’s second.

However, the Lions midfield remained cumbersome until Djemba was substituted for Landry N’Geumo who simply turned the game around with his movement, forward passes and energy. It is no surprise that the rest of Cameroon’s goals came after his inclusion.  It had taken a while but Clemente finally realised that keeping N’Geumo on the bench was an error.

FRIENDLIES PLEASE 

Choupo-Moting gave the crowd moments to cheer with dribbles, twists and turns which left the Mauritius defenders on the floor. He excelled in all forward positions – playing wide but also coming into the centre to make quick one-two passes that created scoring chances for the Lions.

We can’t read too much into this performance given that it was against football minnows like Mauritius but the coaches have to tailor the cast around him.

Mbuta Adongcho scored some points through his zeal and dynamism. He was willing to take up positions in the 18-yard box that put pressure on the islanders and it is no surprise that he scored twice (one seems to have been cancelled for a handball). But he was caught offside (on the wings!) on several occasions which betrays a certain lack of tactical and positional sense.

The Lions would be happy to have broken their barren patch but Cameroon should have scored more goals – given how weak the opponents were.  Unfortunately, cohesion was a problem until the second-half. There were four changes from the game against Senegal, including two players who have not been in the squad for over a year.

The team was crying out for a friendly or two. It is shame that they can’t get one. They need it as part of the reconstruction effort ahead of the next qualifying campaign.

By the way, Senegal have already qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations as group winners after they beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-0 in Dakar.

Javier Clemete, head coach of Cameroon at a press conference

Cameroon’s starting line-up for Saturday afternoon’s game against Mauritius has been released with Javier Clemente giving a first competitive start for the U.S.-based winger Mbuta Adongcho.

Idris Carlos Kameni (GK); Benoit Angbwa (RB) – Nicolas Nkoulou (CB)-Aurelien Chedjou (CB) – Gaetan Bong (LB); Eric Djemba Djemba (CM) -Alexandre Song (CM); Henri Bedimo (WL) -Matthew Adongcho (WR)- Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (FW) –Samuel Eto’o (ST).

Cameroon needs to score goals. They have been unable to score  in a competitive fixture in almost a year. The last time they scored and/or won a game was in their 3-1 defeat of  Mauritius in September last year.

Cameroon media seem to think  coach Javier Clemente has decided on a 4-4-2 to end this goal scoring drought. I suspect the team will pan out as a  4-2-3-1 on the pitch as was the case against Senegal in Yaounde.

The 4-2-3-1 formation gives them reliability in defence (with 2 central midfielders + back 4) and flexibility in attack (with three attacking player behind the main striker).

TACTICS

To make the formation even more attacking – the coaches could recommend a greater contribution from the full-backs in support of the high wide midfielders to offer more width.  That was  not the case against Senegal. Song and Djemba may be nominally defensive midfielders but they have shown in their clubs that they have the intelligience and technique to surge forward. They would be required to be more involved in attack.

Playing as a 4-2-3-1 balances the team and the numbers in midfield allow the team to play for possession well, often with numbers up, especially against an opponent that is likely to play five men in midfield.

Mauritius are not travelling to Yaounde with a realistic hope of beating Cameroon. Mauritius would seek to keep things tight at the back and concede as few goals as possible. Last year, they played a very defensive 4-5-1 against Cameroon and would certainly reappear in that formation. Their plan being to sit deep, defend and if possible counter-attack.

Cameroon on the other hand need to score. Score to regain confidence in themselves; score to prove that there is some relative improvement in their out-put; score to get the fans behind them again; score as many goals as possible to keep their slim hope of qualification going.

TEAM SELECTION

A few things to note about Clemente’s choices.

1. Sebastien Bassong has fallen down the pecking order. In Stephane  Mbia’s absence, the coach has opted for Chedjou as Nkoulou’s centre-back partner. Chedjou has been playing more regularly for his professional club  than Bassong. Hopefully, the versatile Lille player (he can also play in midfield) would wipe out the  souvenir of an unsettled player who scored an own-goal at the Africa Cup of Nations when he was fielded as a central defender for Cameroon.

2. In midfield, Clemente decided to drop Landry N’Guemo and Enoh Eyong, preferring Alexandre Song and Eric Djemba who have not played with the team for a very long while. Hopefully, their experience gets them to instantly click with their teammates.

3. In attack, Clemente called or recalled several attackers but he seems to have preferred the people he knows. He thus plays Bedimo (a leftback at his club) in a more attacking role. He also chose to play Adongcho ahead of the crowd of Europe based forwards in the camp. Adongcho is a natural wide player that the staff discovered during a special selection camp. He scored in a friendly against Macedonia. The coaches have since kept him in the squad despite media reports that he might not be playing regular football in America.

Goodluck to Clemente and his team and see you after the game for a tactical analysis.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto (L) not picked while his club mate Sebastien Bassong (R) is in Cameroon squad

Cameroon’s head coach Javier Clemente has named Edgar Sali (Monaco) and Joel Matip (Shalke 04) in a 23-man squad, that does not include Tottenham’s  Assou-Ekotto, to face Mauritius in Yaounde next month.

The 18-year-old Sali was named the player of the tournament at the African Youth Championships this year but was unable to join his teammates for the U-20 World Cup in Columbia after he signed for French Ligue 2 side Monaco in July.

He is used as a wide midfielder for the Junior Lions although he has the potential to become a forward going central midfield dynamo.

Twenty-year-old Joel Matip, has not played for Cameroon since he appeared as a substitute in a friendly against Macedonia. This hasn’t gone down well with many Cameroon football fans who watch Matip in midfield or central defence for his German Club. He reached the semi-finals of the European Champions League with Shalke 04 this year.

WHO’S IN?

Cameroon’s Spanish-born manager  handed a first call-up to Leonie Kweuke, a striker who plays for Sparta Prague. Henri Bienvenu Tsama (Young Boys Berne), who appeared for the Lions in a friendly against Poland last year is given a second chance to prove his worth.

Midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba (Odense, Denmark) and France-based forward Alo’o Efoulou (AS Nancy)  have also been recalled. Djemba has not featured for Cameroon since 2009 while Efoulou is picked  for the first time since the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010.

Meanwhile Alexandre Song (Arsenal) is expected to make his full come-back for the Lions after a one-year hiatus.

ASSOU-EKOTTO

However, Clemente has no place in his squad for Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The Spurs left-back has been left out for disciplinary reasons, the assistant coach Francois Omam Biyick said on a local TV station.

“The problem with Assou-Ekotto started before the game against Senegal when we held a friendly against Macedonia. He was called to camp but he did not come and nobody knew where he was. The coach tried Gaetan Bong and was satisfied,” Omam is quoted as saying.

There was an uproar in March when Assou-Ekotto didn’t make the squad to face Senegal in Dakar and the staff was forced to later recall him. He was among Cameroon’s best performers in that game.But he did not turn-up for the return-leg although he had been named in the team.

He was summoned to a Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) disciplinary hearing to explain his absence but he didn’t appear in person.

Omam said if the final decision was his to make he would pick Assou-Ekotto because he is among Cameroon’s very best at the moment.

WHO’s OUT?

Charles Itandje dropped by Clemente ahead of Mauritius Game

The other high profile absentee is Achille Webo, the former Majorca forward who has moved to Turkey.

Clemente admires Webo but dropped him to the bench in Yaounde against Senegal. After promising displays by the youngsters fielded in that match maybe the Spaniard now understands why  Webo wasn’t such a big hit among the fans.

The former Liverpool keeper Charles Itandje  (cf photo) has also  been dropped and replaced by the young  Jules Goda.

Stephane Mbia (Marseille) and Vincent Aboubakar (Valencienne) are injured and out of contention for a place in the squad.

West Bromwich Albion’s Somen Tchoyi may feel slighted by the coaches though, given the fine form he has shown as a versatile forward for the team in the early days of the 2011/2012 English Premier League.

Here’s the complete list as published on the FECAFOOT website:

1. Idriss Carlos Kameni, RCD Espanyol – Spain

2. Guy Roland Ndy Assembe, AS Nancy – Lorraine – France

3. Jules Goda, Portimonense – Portugal

4. Benoit Angbwa, FK Anzhi Makhachkala – Russia

5. Nicolas Nkoulou, Olympique Marseille – France

6. Sebastien Bassong, Tottenham Hotspurs – England

7. Gaetan Bong, FC Valenciennes – France

8. Eyong Takang Enoh, AFC Ajax Amsterdam – Holland

9. Aurelien Chedjou, Lille OSC – France

10. Eric Djemba Djemba, OB Odense – Denmark

11. Henri Bedimo, Montpellier – France

12. Landry Nguemo, Girondins de Bordeaux – France

13. Alexandre Song, Arsenal – England

14. Andongcho Mathew Mbuta, Chrystal Palace -USA

15. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, FSV Mainz 05 – Germany

16. Benjamin Moukandjo, AS Nancy – Lorraine – France

17. Samuel Eto’o, FK Anzhi Makhachkala – Russia

18. Ngako Deutcha Duvalois, Sable FC de Batie – Cameroun

19. Joel Matip, Schalke 04 – Germany

20. Paul Alo’o Efoulou, AS Nancy – Lorraine – France

21. Bienvenu Ntsama, Young Boys – Switzerland

22. Edgar Salli, AS Monaco – France

23. Leonard Kweuke, AC Sparta Prague – Czech Republic

Samuel Eto’o missed a late penalty that would have given Cameroon victory over Senegal and keep the Central African nation’s slim hope of qualifying to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations alive. The game ended 0-0 and the Indomitable Lions look certain to miss the tournament to be hosted by their neighbours Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But on a purely tactical perspective it was a promising display from Cameroon – their most attack-minded performance in a competitive match in a long while.

Cameroon’s head coach, Javier Clemente, kept his promise to send out a team focused on attacking its opponent from the start.  The team included Benjamin Moukandjo, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Samuel Eto’o who are all used as attackers in their clubs.

He organised them in a 4-2-3-1 formation (similar to the one used by Germany at the 2010 World Cup). Eto’o was the lone striker while the youngsters (named above) played as the “3” behind him often interchanging positions. The shape gave the team width and penetration as the front four took turns to become de facto striker, “wingers” (cutting inside) or drop as a supporting striker (linking midfield and attack) given that the trio (Moukandjo, Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting) are all capable of unpicking opposing defences with ease.

The result was constant pressure on the Senegalese team from the first to the last minute of play; in a way Cameroon last did only in the 2006 Cup of Nations under Arthur Jorge and the early days of Paul Le Guen’s reign.

There were over a dozen corner kicks for Cameroon; not less than a dozen free-kicks at the edge of the Senegalese 18-yard box; and 7 clear goal-scoring chances (several of them one-on-one with the goalkeeper).

Sadly, the finishing was poor. Many of the shots were hit straight at goalkeeper Coundoul (who was preferred to (Calamity) Khadim Ndiaye).

fans senegal

Is it all about victory now?

MOVEMENT

The Senegalese have lashed out at the referee, who was far from excellent and gave a rather soft penalty to Cameroon. But the referee cannot be blamed for their complete tameness. Amara Traore had opted for a 4-3-3 which had a front three of Mamadou Niang, Issiar Dia and Moussa Sow. His intention was to have an extra man in midfield as opposed to the away leg in Dakar.

Yet, they were over-run by the movement Cameroon’s midfield 5 (if one includes the threesome that was supporting the attack) particularly the Enoh Eyong Tarkang and Landry Nguemo duet. Enoh sat deep mainly protecting his centre-backs while Nguemo peppered the Senegalese with hardworking box-to-box play that supported the attacking scheme set-up by Clemente (Aurelien Chedjou who was surprisingly left on the bench as a result of this formation, came on as a second-half substitute for Nguemo and added that penetration that was lacking in Dakar, as well).

The Senegalese had only one shot on target and it was from an off-side position.

Cameroon’s keeper, Carlos Kameni, was practically not seen throughout the encounter while his defenders – Amgwa Ossomeyong (RB), Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Stephane Mbia (CB), Gaetan Bong (LB) – were rarely troubled. The full-backs (Amgwa and Bong) shuttled back and forth on the flanks to add with while Mbia had several opportunities to score with a header from Cameroon’s numerous kicks – but he hit the ball wide on many occasions.

The pressure, movement, passing, free-kicks and possession driven play from back-to-front came to nil because Cameroon were unable to score. A few fans got so bitter after the game that they attacked cars parked outside the stadium and clashed with security forces who tried to protect the players. It pains when a team doesn’t win and nobody wants failure. But there were positive lessons in that game which could serve as a great guide.

PROMISE

Beyond Eto’o and the penalty he missed – Saturday’s game was another preview of a promising new generation of Indomitable Lions. With the average age of the starting eleven being 22 (if you take away Kameni and Eto’o)  there is a foundation for the emergence of another great pride of Lions (including the likes of Joel Matp and Salli Edgar),  if they play under the guidance of a manager who is there to build and  is not under pressure to produce immediate results (which politicians want to use as distraction).

“A manager (coach) can only make a difference if he has a club that backs him, that is patient, that gives confidence to players and that is willing to commit to long-term. And in any case that doesn’t just want to win, but to win convincingly,” Arrigo Sacchi, the Italian master tactician, is quoted as saying in Jonathan Wilson’s book: Inverting the Pyramid.

The mistake that has been made in the past and which was repeated after the World Cup in 2010 was to go for the short-term (or victory now and at all cost) approach. Authorities and the media didn’t accept that the Indomitable Lions were (are) a team under construction (in transition).

They went into witch-hunting mode, comparing generations passed and present, and mis-managing (or over-reacting to) tensions between players in the squad. Many were oblivious to the fact that Le Guen had unearthed talented  but inexperienced players that had to mature and could not necessarily triumph at the World Cup or ride over the continent.

Upon the first hurdle (which was the 1-1 draw with Congo), the media and team administrators panicked and a chain of reactions has led to a collapse of what should have been a painstaking project.

An absence from the Africa Cup could turn to into an opportunity to build a solid and more conquering team. With less pressure to win a trophy, a good and passionate coach, discipline and better organisation, regular camps and sparring partners on every FIFA date available, the Lions would re-emerge as a force in 2012/13 in time for the World Cup qualifiers.

Wasn’t that the path that Senegal took after they were knocked-out of the race to the 2010 Africa Cup and World Cup tournaments?

I have not watched Cameroon train and the media have largely focused on side-events such as the tense relationship between Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o – which makes it hard to discuss coach Javier Clemente’s plans for Saturday.

Nevertheless, the Spaniard promised a more offensive game. Does that mean he would change his personnel to accommodate more attack-minded players than in Dakar?

A few reports have suggested that he is planning a 4-4-2 with Eto’o and Webo as the strikers, while the young, Monaco based forward, Benjamin Moukandjo (or Valenciene striker Vincent Aboubakar) would be fielded on the right flank. Unfortunately, the reports have not stated if Henri Bedimo (who plays left-back at Lens) would continue as left winger.

Clemente talks tactics with Choupo-Moting at half-time of Cameroon v Senegal, Dakar, 26 March 2011

If Clemente has effectively opted for 4-4-2 it would mean a greater use of the wings to stretch the game but it would also require the wide men to put-in inch-perfect crosses and have the ability to take their markers in one-on-one dribbles à la Valencia (Manchester United) to create space and allow the forwards to take suitable positions.

With only Webo as a good header of the ball against a Senegalese defence of very tall and physical players, banging ill-timed high crosses would be a fruitless strategy.

That formation would mean one-to-one battles in the midfield as opposed to the Dakar game while the Cameroon full-backs will be bereft of the protection from and extra midfielder. This would expose them to the trickery and pace of the Senegalese wingers (who are actually attackers).

THREE-MAN MIDFIELD

Moreover, this would not solve the key problem that Cameroon faced in Dakar which was lack of penetration from the centre. Nguemo was supposed to act like a box to box mid-fielder to support Webo but it didn’t quite work out.  Eto’o often had to retreat into central midfield positions to link up play. It’s a shame that Clemente did not retain Somen Tchoyi. He could have done this very well.

Nonetheless, I suspect Clemente would keep the shape of the team close to what we saw in Dakar  and play in a sort of 4-1-2-3. Sadly, Assou-Ekotto who adds an extra attacking dimension from full-back is an injury doubt.

I have not seen them practice so I can’t say for sure what coach’s choices would be. Using the 4-1-2-3 formation, here’s how I would field the players currently at his disposal against Senegal to ensure defensive balance, penetration from midfield as well as width and incisiveness from the attack:

A back four of: Benoit Amgwa (RB) – Nicolas Nkoulou (CB) – Sebastien Bassong (CB) – Gaetan Bong (LB).  Stephane Mbia (CM) to sit in-front of the back-four; Aurelien Chedjou (CM) and Landry Nguemo (CM) working box-to-box. A forward trio of: Benjamin Moukandjo (right) Samuel Eto’o (centre) and Maxim Choupo-Moting (left). The front-men can always switch positions.

Choupo-Moting and Moukandjo regularly play as wingers in their clubs (though they are strikers) and are technically good to cut-in from the flanks into the centre of attack (à la Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Maria). They are tactically aware enough to drop deep to form  a midfield 5 once Cameroon loses possession.

Nguemo, Mbia and Chedjou play more defensive roles in their clubs but in the past (especially at youth levels) they played in advanced positions for the national teams. They have the energy to do the box-to-box roles that is required of midfielders in such a formation to give thrust and penetration to attacks like Essien, Lampard used to do in Mourinho’s Chelsea.

The system is built on speed and power and thus accommodates the type of players Cameroon currently possesses when played in the Chelsea way rather than the Barcelona format which lays emphasis on technique.

But, I am not the coach. It’s down to Javier Clemente.

Here is part 1 of this preview that focuses on Senegal…