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.
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?