Category: CAN 2013


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?

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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).

Denis Lavagne, the head coach of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, has named a 22-man squad expected to travel to Guinea Bissau at the end of February for an Africa Cup of Nations 2013 qualifier.

Could Choupo-Moting (L) or Stephane Mbia (R) become Cameroon's media punta or regista?

Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s absence from the list has sparked debate, which is logical given the defender’s performances at Tottenham Hotspur. However, the absence of creativity in the squad requires greater attention.

Creativity here is not the technical ability to dribble, which many of the players possess. It is that science and/or art to link defence to attack with grace. It is the sharpness of mind to make a perfectly weighted killer-pass to the right man and at the right time.

That could be delivered by a variety of players. There is the trequartista – an advanced playmaker who plays centrally between the opposition’s defence and attack, very similar to the engache (Argentine variant) like Juan Riquelme (normally referred to as a “number 10”).  There is the regista – often a deep-lying playmaker like the Italian Andrea Pirlo and more recently Paul Scholes for Manchester United.

Then there is the media-punta – the player who links the midfield organisers and the attack. That is what the likes of Cesc Fabregras, Lionel Messi, and Iniesta do for FC Barcelona and David Silva does for Manchester City.

Creative players give an extra dimension to their teams. They carve openings in the most water-tight defences, they switch the direction of play, dictate the rhythm of a game via their accurate long and short passing.  Who does that for Cameroon?

DEFENDERS

Of the 22 players selected for the Bissau game, at least eleven have consistently played as defenders this season: Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille, France), Stephane Mbia (Marseille, France), Aurelien Chedjou (Lille, France), Jean Armel Kana Biyik (Rennes, France), Henri Bedimo (Montpellier, France), Dany Nounkeu (Gaziantespor, Turkey), Gaetan Bong (Valenciennes, France) and Allan Nyom (Granada, Spain), Joel Matip (Schalk 04, Germany), Georges Mandjeck (Auxerre, France).

A further two: Alexandre Song (Arsenal, England) and Landry Ngeumo (Bordeaux, France) have been employed as holding midfielders (a role which Matip, Mbia, and Mandjeck have also held).

Lavagne fielded a 4-3-3 formation with a midfield trio of Nguemo, Song and Enoh Eyong during the LG Cup in Morocco last November. Nguemo and Song looked like the organisers, surging forward to support the attack. They played their hearts out and the team beat Sudan 3-1 and Morocco on penalties after a 1-1 draw.That could possibly be enough versus Bissau.

But, as seen during the World Cup in South Africa where Paul Le Guen used midfield combinations of Makoun, Nguemo, Enoh or Matip – expecting creativity from players who are often defenders or holding midfielders could end up in total fiasco when faced with teams that are solid and compact.

The absence of creative, organising talent  has dogged Cameroon football for many years and certainly goes beyond the game versus Bissau. Lavagne’s predecessors such as Winfried Schaffer, Arthur Jorge, Jules Nyongha, Otto Pfister and Paul Le Guen devised various stratagems to overcome this challenge.

Schaffer designed systems that employed the late Marc Vivien Foe as a regista and on some occasions a hard running box-to-box midfielder.

Arthur Jorge re-shaped the team into a 4-3-3 using former wingers Salomon Olembe and Ngom Kome in central midfield behind the threesome of Samuel Eto’o, Achille Webo and Rudolph Douala. He finished his tenure by using a 4-2-3-1 with Eto’o having a free role “in the hole” behind the lone forward.

Jules Nyongha used a 4-4-2 system with double pivot – usually any two of Stephane Mbia, Landry Nguemo, Jean Makoun and Achille Emana – with each taking turns to attack and defend.

Lavagne must be thinking about this hence talk of switching the FIFA nationality of the attacking midfielder  Willie Overtoom who was born in Cameroon but has represented Holland at youth level. Playing one of Chedjou, Matip, and Mbia as a regista and/or moulding the talented Choupo-Moting as a media-punta or a trequartista are other options to consider.

DEVELOPMENT

However, the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) and/or the national technical directorate need to restructure things from the roots by developing programmes that insist on producing creative young players (in addition to the physical aspects of the game).

As kids growing up in Yaounde, one needed what was called “condi” or “condition” (physical fitness) to be picked in games. Those of us whose physique was not developed to “jam-lock” (basically bulldoze past opponents) were left on the sidelines.

This became even more systematic with the boom of football academies, which are basically incubators of the template for African players needed by Europe-based teams i.e strong, big, tall, quick with enough technique to control the ball.

That mentality has to change.  Simply overpowering opponents with athleticism and counter-attack based football has its limits. P.E. teachers, trainers at soccer academies and club coaches must work on intelligent runs, technique and decision-making for the right pass.

Theophile Abega, Gregoire Mbida, Jean Tokoto, Roger Milla and Louis Paul Mfede could do that and they were also Cameroonians, which means it is possible to have such players.

Meanwhile, here is the squad as published on the Fecafoot website:

1. Nkoulou Nicolas (Olympique de Marseille – France)
2. Aboubakar Vincent (AS Valenciennes – France)
3. Bedimo Henri (Montpellier – France)
4. Bienvenu Henri Ntsama (Fenerbache – France)
5. Bong Gaetan (Valenciennes – France)
6. Chedjou Aurelien (Lille – France)
7. Choupo Moting Eric (Mayence – Allemagne)
8. Feudjou Aurelien (Cotonsport – Cameroun)
9. Kameni Carlos Idriss (Malaga – Espagne
10. Kana Biyik Jean Armel (Rennes – France)
11. Kweuke Leonard (Sparta – Rép. Tchèque)
12. Mandjeck Georges (Auxerre – France)
13. Matip Joel (Schalke 04 – Allemagne )
14. Moukandjo Benjamin (AS Nancy – France)
15. Ndy Assembe Guy (AS Nancy – France)
16. Nguemo Landry (Bordeaux – France)
17. Nounkeu Dany (Gaziantespor – Turquie)
18. Nyom Allan (Grenade – Espagne )
19. Salli Edgar (Monaco – France)
20. Song Alexandre (Arsenal – Angleterre)
21. Zoua Jacques (Bale – Suisse)
22. Mbia Stéphane (Marseille – France)