Category: World Cup 2010


Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o was named best player of the FIFA Club World Cup after his Italian team, Inter  Milan trounced TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 3-nil on Saturday to win the tournament.

Eto’o scored Inter’s second goal at the 17th minute of play via a powerful drive from the edge of the 18-yard area after he had provided an assist for Goran Pandev’s curtain raiser 13 minutes into the game.

It has been a stellar year for Eto’o and Inter Milan. The team have also won the European Champions League, the Italian League, Cup and Super-Cup  and the Cameroonian has scored 19 times in 23 appearances for Inter since August.

“I want to write history with Inter,” Eto’o said on his arrival at Inter last year. “I won almost everything with Barça, I hope to do so also here.”

He has clearly kept to his word.

Cameroon’s dismal performances at both the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa have been the black spots in Eto’o’s 2010. On both occasions he finished as the Indomitable Lions’ best scorer but the overall team out-put was poor.

Maybe he had this in mind because he wasn’t overly excited during the presentation of his individual award (which includes a car) and the World Club Cup trophy to Inter. It could also be that he wanted to contain his joy as a sign of respect for the day’s opponents who were representing Africa, his home continent.  

The Congolese team became the first African (and first non-European or South American) club to reach the final of this competition after they beat the representatives of North/Central America and South America in the quarter and sem-finals respectively.

TP Mazembe, that fielded Cameroon-born Narcisse Ekanga, crumbled under the weight of Inter’s experience and quality.

Ekanga, who played as a holding midfielder, displayed strong physical strength, doing his utmost to contain his compatriot (Eto’o) but he was also guilty of attempting rather dangerous tackles and was booked in the first half.

He would also need to rein-in his temper if he expects to progress at an international level. He was seen constantly protesting against the referee’s decisions and had to be called to order by Mazembe’s Senegalese coach Lamine Ndiaye.

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Cameroon na bol

Cameroon is the World’s 40th ranked nation in football according to the monthly rankings released by football’s governing body (FIFA) on Wednesday.

The Lions were ranked 19th in June but after three defeats to Japan (0-1), Denmark (1-2) and Holland (1-2) during the World Cup in South Africa they experienced their worst fall (21 places) since the rankings were introduced.

In December 2009, they were Africa’s top ranked squad (11th in the world) and now they are the 7th best nation on the continent. They are behind Gabon (6th in Africa and 34th in the world), Algeria (5th and 33rd), Nigeria (4th and 30th), the Ivory Coast (2nd and 26th) and Egypt (1st and 9th).

The current rankings simply display a disastrous 2010 in which Cameroon’s Lions have obtained 2 victories for 7 defeats and 4 draws while conceding a total of 22 goals.

The FIFA rankings are made on the basis of points attributed to or deducted from senior national football teams following victories, draws or defeats within a given period. They do not necessarily tell the absolute value of a team on the pitch but they are  seen as a scale of a team’s recent progress and usually used to determine seeds in tournaments. 

The World Champions Spain currently top the chart followed by  Holland, Brazil, Germany and Argentina, in that order.

Returning to a prestigious spot on the FIFA rankings may be on the mind of Cameroon’s  new national team coach to be appointed before a friendly international game in August.  But, rebuilding  Cameroon football after World Cup 2010 is beyond quick victories or defeats.

It has to do with policies and concrete action to develop the game from the grassroots and setting long-term targets to be achieved at various levels of the game and its organisation in the country.  Where do we want to be in four years time? What should we achieve by 2014 or 2018?

The Lions of Cameroon have packed-out of the World Cup in South Africa after 3 defeats in a row. They are the only African team at “Africa’s World Cup” that was not able to record a single point.  Their 1-2 defeat to Holland in the last group game confirmed their inability to beat a European team in a competitive match since a 2-1 victory over Rumania in June 1990. Their only victory at a World Cup since 1990 was against Saudi Arabia in 2002 (see video below).

And did you realise that …

  1. By scoring his country’s lone goal against Holland, Samuel Eto’o has been involved in all of Cameroon’s World Cup goals in 8 years. He made the assist for Patrick Mboma to score Cameroon’s goal in the 1-1 tie with Ireland in 2002 and scored the winner in the 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in that same tournament. He then scored for the Lions in the 2-1 defeats to Denmark and Holland in 2010. Simply put, without Eto’o Cameroon would have zero (0) goals in six World Cup games…
  2. Aurelien Chedjou is a good midfielder and not the average central defender or laughable right full-back that his coaches at club level and the national team want him to be. He was probably the best Cameroonian on the field in Cape Town on Thursday. He recuperated the ball with punch, without useless fouls and always sought to take the game forward with short, carefully weighted passes. Though his long distance shots were not good, he clearly made everyone forget that Arsenal’s Alex Song was not on the pitch.
  3. Chedjou, Stephane Mbia, Alex Song and Georges Mandjeck who were all part of World Cup squad, made up the midfield of the under 23 squad that reached the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games in 2008. Imagine those four in midfield at the same time…Add Maxim Choupo-Moting who shone in the second half of the Holland game (but was surprisingly withdrawn in favour of Idrissou) and the likes of Vincent Aboubakar, Joel Matip, Eyong Enoh, Gaetan Bong, Sebastien Bassong and Nicolas Nkoulou into the mix and one has a good foundation for Cameroon to build a strong squad in future.
  4. Cameroon’s  future could be bright as seen in the glimpses of brilliant play against Holland, with short-passes, technique and movement that Patrick Mboma (now a TV pundit) compared it to football played by FC Barcelona. Mboma, however, said on French TV channel Canal+ that it takes time to build a team to successfully play in that manner especially when it is not their traditional style of play. Clearly, Cameroon cannot succeed  with short-term, quick-fix coaches and management. Maybe Le Guen could have succeeded if this was a long-term project not hinged on immediate success for socio-political reasons. Are Cameroonians (fans and politicians) ready for patient, long-haul development that might involve the absence of trophies?  Do the football officials have such vision?
  5. Rigobert Song became the first African to appear at four FIFA World Cup tournaments when he came on as a late substitute versus Holland. But what image shall remain in our minds? A charismatic captain who fought to the last for his country? That of a defender who took 2 red cards in successive World Cup tournaments? Or is it that of a man struggling for pace against Arjen Robben in the action that led to the 2nd goal for the Dutch side? Le Guen showed kindness by giving him a chance to play but the Frenchman could have proceeded otherwise…Maybe he should have withdrawn Makoun instead of Nkoulou, and pushed Mbia to midfield. This would have left Rigobert Song at centre-back with Nkoulou who is used to covering the old Lion’s lack of pace. Well, that’s the past…
  6. The future (at centre-back) is in the hands of Bassong and Nkoulou and it is surprising that the coach did not stick to this duo. There were many lapses in the Mbia/Nkoulou and Mbia/Rigobert Song centre-back partnerships against Holland.  The Lions were lucky that the referee didn’t give a penalty against them after Mbia clearly fouled a Dutch player towards the end of the game. He has the fighting spirit but Bassong has the positional sense of a good centre-back. All the Tottenham Hotspur man needs is confidence from managers and the public as well as time for his duo with Nkoulou to gel.
  7. If the candidates to replace Rigobert Song are many, it seems harder to find a replacement for Geremi Njitap on the right flank (both offensively and defensively). Once he came on as a substitute against Japan, the pre-tournament view that Cameroon’s weakest link was the right-flank  was turned around. The weak link became the left-flank which was the entry point for all the goals conceded by the team.
  8. Cameroon versus Holland was Paul Le Guen’s last game in-charge of Cameroon and he stayed true to his tradition of chopping and changing players. There were 5 players who did not start the game against Denmark. Le Guen used nearly his whole 23 man-squad in 3 matches. Only the injured Georges Mandjeck did not have the opportunity to taste the World Cup among the outfield players. Similarly, all 20 outfield players appeared for Cameroon under Le Guen at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. There was at least one different player in all 20 matches he managed from August 2009 to June 2010 (never repeating the same sqaud). In 2010 alone, he had 10 different centre-back partnerships in 13 games – Cameroon conceded 22 goals in the process.
  9. Goalkeeper Souleymanou Hamidou was beaten 5 times in this competition. This simply maintained a cameroon tradition of letting-in 5 goals in the group stages of the World Cup  which they only failed to achieve in 1982 (1 goal) and 2002 (4 goals).  In 1990 they created history by being the first team with a negative goal difference (-2) to top its pool and qualify for the second round. They had been beaten 4-0 by the USSR and they won 2-1 over Rumania. In 1994, they conceded 11 (eleven) goals in 3 matches: a 2-2 draw with Sweden; 0-3 defeat to Brazil; and 1-6 thrashing in the hands of Russia. In 1998, they were beaten 3-0 by Italy and obtained two 1-1 draws with Austria and Chile.
  10. In the first World Cup hosted by an African country, Cameroon, the continent’s highest ranked team at the start of the tournament, were only better than the Democratic People’s Republic of  Korea (North Korea) that conceded 12 goals and scored only 1 in 3 games.

(click here to listen) The People’s Game – Radio Show for Saturday June 19, 2010

Today’s (Saturday’s)  show was live-to-air on our home station, KPFK Radio Los Angeles. We open with a roundtable (Alan, Jennifer, Pablo, and Fernando) that takes the temperature of the tournament then shifts to Jennifer’s commentary in today’s Guardian, which calls on FIFA to use this World Cup to combat sexual violence as it has done with racism. Then we focus on Cameroon, the first team exiled from the tournament after a 2-1 loss to Denmark. We’re joined by two bloggers, both passionate supporters of the (In)dominable Lions, to learn what went wrong for this highly-talented side: Cameroon native George Fominyen; and American Liz Hottel. Then we’re joined by the filmmakers behind a great new film, Pelada, about pick-up soccer games around the world. Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham, accomplished players themselves, literally traveled the entire globe – and their film captures the intense joy that people from all nations spontaneously find in the game.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon became the first team to be knocked-out of the World Cup after their 1-2 defeat to Denmark on Saturday. There are many stories surrounding the team’s stay in South Africa which may have contributed to their early exit but from a purely footballing perspective, this is the result of tactical blunders.

Paul Le Guen qualified the Indomitable Lions to this World Cup. He stuck to his chosen pattern (4-3-3) and ceaselessly chopped and changed his starting teams without necessarily coming up with a convincing plan B, regardless of criticism by pundits and the media.

When he deployed his men against Japan (in a match to be quickly forgotten), Cameroon lost 0-1 with Samuel Eto’o tucked on the right of a front trio while Arsenal’s Alex Song was on the bench, he faced a mini-revolution from the players and Cameroon officials.

He was forced to change tactics and play a 4-3-1-2 (or 4-4-2 daimond) against Denmark. Cameroon’s performance was better and they could have won the game but the squad was lopsided with extra men on the right and little or no support on the left where Assou-Ekotto was isolated (see picture below). The midfield failed to shift to the left in support when he surged forward to support the attackers and the Danes looped the ball over into the space behind him. The second goal is a classic example of this problem.

Cameroon positions courtesy Zonal Marking

For a better understanding of this failure – you can visit Zonal Marking.

TACTICAL DISORGANISATION

What’s frightening is Le Guen’s inability to fix a problem which any keen observer had noticed within the first quarter hour of the game (I twitted about the problem as Denmark equalised). His half-time solution was to withdraw Enoh Eyong who seemed out of depth by fielding Jean Makoun. The latter’s dreadful cover for Assou-Ekotto in the Danish winning goal is a stark pointer to Le Guen’s poor substitutions.

He could have balanced the team by shifting Assou-Ekotto up to the midfield and replacing Enoh with Gaetan Bong who is a left back. We would have had a balanced team with a Geremi/Mbia pair on the right and an Assou-Ekotto/Bong pair on the left to keep the Danish wingmen (Dennis Rommedahl and Jesper Gronkjaer) blocked.

Le Guen realized he had bungled things after the Danes went ahead and he decided to finally bring on cover for Assou-Ekotto. It came in the shape of Idrissou Mohammadou (forward) for Sebastien Bassong (a centre-back)! The tactical shift caused by this change actually made Cameroon weaker because Mbia had to slide into centre-back and Geremi who was positioned high-up had to drop into right-back. This diminished Geremi’s support to the attack. As Geremi tried to maintain pressure, it looked as if Cameroon was playing a curious variant of 3-5-2 (or 3-4-3) but the attackers (Eto’o, Idrissou, Webo) were all muddled up and Emana (the playmaker) was lost.

The coach therefore had to fix things again. He chose to replace Webo (who should not have started the game in my opinion) with the young Aboubacar Vincent. The 18-year-old Cotonsport Garoua attacker gave an admirable account of himself but the whole team was disorganised by this time.

Dis-organisation has become synonymous to Cameroon’s play once they concede a goal. They lose shape and the coach is often lost in terms of his changes. He piles up big strikers like Idrissou and the team starts launching long balls to the front as against Japan and the team usually ends up with four or five attackers no midfield cover and players trying to be one-man-national heroes.

That has been the Lions’ trademark in 2010 with an average of 2 goals conceded per match; in 5 defeats (0-1 to Gabon, 1-3 to Egypt, 1-3 to Portugal, 3-4 to Serbia), 4 draws (0-0 with Italy, 0-0 with Georgia, 1-1 with Slovakia) for just 2 games won  3-1 over Kenya and 3-2 over Zambia.

Ill-ADAPTED TACTICS

Le Guen had the laudable initiative of re-building Cameroon’s national team by injecting talented youngsters and encouraging entertaining  and effective football. The games against Austria, Gabon, Togo and Morocco in 2009 made the project look plausible. Unfortunately the Frenchman failed to see that the country’s current crop of players (or those he chose for the World Cup) could not fit in his lofty pattern.

Since the reign of Yugoslav (or generally eastern European) coaches ended in the 1980s (with the exception of Valeri Nepiomiachi in1989-1990) the Indomitable Lions mainly play a physical game pegged on counter-attacks. The team waits, defends tightly, breaks swiftly to score and  recoils into defence mode (see Cameroon vs Ghana 2008).

Such tactics have also persevered  because most players in Cameroon are developed for the international market – which needs big, strong midfielders and central defenders and not witty dribblers and ball players like Abega Theophile, Mbida Gregoire or M’Fede Louis Paul of old. Few good strikers have emerged in Cameroon since Samuel Eto’o and the country lacks winger, wing-backs and full-backs of international quality.

The former PSG and Rangers coach should have built Cameroon as a 4-5-1 unit that relies on taking teams on the counter and is hard to beat.

Winfried Schaffer organized the squad in such a manner at the Confederations Cup in 2003. They reached the final of the tournament after scoring only 3 goals, with three 1-0 victories and a scoreless draw with the U.S. They lost to France (0-1) via a Thierry Henri golden goal after the Lions had held out for 110 notwithstanding the tragedy of Foe’s death.

In the current state of Cameroon football where the local leagues and clubs are in shambles, proper youth development is abysmal; any coach who wants to obtain results tends to adapt to such counter-offensive formations (except Arthur Jorge in 2006). Had Le Guen re-adapted his tactics in January, he would not have left the talented youngsters he’s brought to the squad in limbo.

Alex Song and Le Guen in discussion

Alexandre Song will probably start the World Cup as a substitute against Japan and Souleymanou Hamidou will be  Cameroon’s  first choice goalkeeper, the team’s head coach, Paul Le Guen, said on Saturday.

“I have to make choices and I try to pick the most competitive team possible,” Le Guen told a news conference at the Indomitable Lions’ base in Durban, South Africa.

Le Guen’s decision to drop Alex Song may come as a surprise to many international observers (who consider the Arsenal player as one of Cameroon’s biggest assets) but Song has not been performant with the Lions during the preparation matches.

“Alexandre  did not finish the season with Arsenal, I think his last match with his club was on April 14. He was injured . He did not participate in the final month of competition and he has not trained too.  He lacks rhythm and match fitness, ” Le Guen told a news conference in Yaounde before the team travelled to South Africa.

“He (Alex Song) has to show me that he is back to his best form. There is no blank cheque for one player…Alex must demonstrate a return to form,” the coach had said.

The holding midfielder role had become a weak link in the team as Alex Song kept the ball too much and constantly  left his position to make forays in the attack,  leaving his back four without cover. A good number of goals conceded by the Lions during their test matches were due to this lack of coordination and balance between the midfield and defence, explained here.

As a result, the French-born manager  played Nicolas Nkoulou instead of Alex Song in the holding midfielder role during Cameroon’s final friendly against Serbia.

Nkoulou impressed in this role which he also plays for his club (Monaco) in the French Ligue 1 but it is not clear if he would be maintained in the position or Joel Matip (Shalke, Germany) would be played there.

Should Nkoulou be confirmed in the holding midfield position, Stephane Mbia and Sebastien Bassong will play as centre-backs.

Le Guen also said he would be handing a starting place to the Celtic Glasgow midfielder Landry Nguemo who also played well against Serbia.

Goalkeeper Souleymanou Hamidou who was between the sticks in three of Cameroon’s five test matches has been confirmed as the first choice keeper ahead of Espanyol Barcelona’s Idriss Carlos Kameni.

Souleymanou, who is the oldest player (36) in the squad, will be playing at the World Cup for the first time although he was selected in the national team in 1998. He was the third keeper in the Cameroon team that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000.

He was not called up again until 2004 in a friendly against Bulgaria. He later became the first choice keeper under Arthur Jorge during the last segment of qualifiers to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and during the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Cameroon’s national football team will this Tuesday play an exhibition game to bid farewell to their fans before jetting-off to South Africa for the World Cup. It is a traditional game played between the 23 players selected for a tournament amidst song, drums and dance.

Many Cameroonian fans are so attached to this ceremony that they believe the team would ultimately have a poor showing if it does not play that game at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde. The current manager, Paul Le Guen, came under a barrage of criticism for scrapping this aspect of preparations ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

Whether or not this had an effect on the Indomitable Lions’ poor showing last January is a matter for diviners and religious people to tell. Now, Paul Le Guen has been “educated” to include this tradition in his programme for the World Cup.

“We were told that it is customary for the Lions to always play an exhibition match at the stadium in Yaounde,” Le Guen told a press conference in Yaounde on Monday.

“I’ve talked to the Cameroonian members of the staff who told me it is a good thing. I also spoke with the Minister of Sport and the president of FECAFOOT (Cameroon football federation) and I acceded to their request (for this customary stop),” the Frenchman added.

HISTORY

Whereas the tradition of leaving the players of the national team to meet family and friends 2 or 3 days before departure for a tournament dates back to the early ’80s, the exhibition match became a feature only in 1998 ahead of the World Cup in France.

The then coach, Claude Le Roy, had made wholesale changes in the squad and many of the players like Samuel Ipoua, Angibeaud Nguidjol, and Lauren Etame Mayer were unknown to the fans. The idea was to play a game in which the people could identify and commune with their team.

I remember that the fans barely knew Lauren’s name but were impressed by his display – and thus referred to him as “le sept” (the N°7 – his shirt number in that game).

The match has become a tradition especially as the bulk of Cameroon’s internationals play their club football in Europe.

With at good number of players of  Le Guen’s 23 – Joel Matip, Ndy Assembe, Vincent Aboubakar –  barely joining the team and some only obtaining clearance to play for Cameroon only a week or so ago – Maxim Choupo Moting and Gael Bong; it would be an opportunity for the very demanding crowd to judge and “bless”them.

The team captain, Samuel Eto’o has already warned the “new” Lions, particularly Choupo-Moting his young colleague of the attack line, about the importance and pressure of this ceremony.

“I told him that the most difficult match will be played tomorrow (today) at Mfandena (the neighbourhood of the stadium) during the farewell to the public…It is at Mfandena that all happens. Here at home we are all coaches,” Eto’o said in Cameroon Tribune, the state run daily.

HISTORIC

This year’s “blessings” match, by design or coincidence, falls on 8 June – a date which has remained forever in Cameroon football history. It was on that day, 20 years ago, that the Lions  defeated Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in Italy and put Cameroon on the world map.

Will the current pride of Lions be inspired by the exploits of their predecessors? Will they shine line Omam Biyick whose header gave Cameroon that famous victory? Cameroon has never crossed the group stages of the World Cup since 1990 – could Samuel Eto’o and team-mates do it this time?

Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play Serbia in their final preparatory game for the World Cup this Saturday. This comes four days after the Lions lost 1-3 to Portugal which exposed defensive frailties that coach Paul Le Guen and team need to work on before their first game against Japan in South Africa.

“This is one of the three problems of the team.It concedes a lot of goals. It should concede less and score more,” Cameroon’s deputy head-coach, Yves Colleu, told Cameroon Tribune.

The team will have to create a balance between playing a high defensive line – to attack their opponents in numbers – and a coordinated defence.

BALANCE AND COORDINATION

The current 4-3-3 formation demands that the full-backs charge up-field to support the attackers and provide vital crosses. Cameroon’s only goal versus Portugal (as was the case against Slovakia) came from a cross by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the left full-back. His opposite number, Georges Mandjeck, had made an equally dashing run that helped to contain Portuguese interest before the ball was switched from right to left.

It is, however, this very attacking option that makes it easy for Cameroon’s opponents to smash them with deadly counter-attacks. The opposing team (as the Portuguese did so brilliantly), simply have to lump the ball behind the defence line, in the zone vacated by the full-backs ( Assou-Ekotto and Mandjeck). It was seen in both second half goals conceded to Portugal with a heavy involvement by the Manchester United winger, Nani.

What teams like FC Barcelona do to maintain defensive balance in such a  4-3-3 formation is to request their centre-backs to stretch out wide while the holding midfielder (Yaya Toure or Busquets) to drop deep as a 3rd centre-back. It covers the width of the field and protects the team until the full-backs can piston back into their positions.

At the moment, Cameroon’s holding midfielder (Alex Song) tends to follow the action in support of the attackers and is  usually absent from his position when the move collapses and the opposing team is in a counter offensive situation.

“Alex (Alexandre Song) is less sharp, but it will be alright,” Colleu said in a tacit admission that the midfielder has to up his game and tactical awareness.

But this is more than  an exclusively individual mistake.

For instance, Portugal’s third goal happened when Alex Song had been replaced and Enoh Eyong was in the holding midfielder’s position. The  two central defenders (Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia) ended up facing 4 Portuguese attackers and where split between running back to their goalpost or rushing towards Nani.

This was certainly made worse by the fact that Cameroon was playing 10 against 11 men but they should have had some support from their N°6.  Tactical coordination between the defence and the midfield must be tackled with insistence by the coaches. The game against Serbia should tell if there is an improvement on this matter. Luckily the staff has another 10 days to work on it in training.

RIGHT-BACK WAHALA

The coaches are also aware that there is the small matter of choosing a definite right-back for the team.

“The second problem is the right full-back position; of the three players tested at this position, Mandjeck is the one that gave most satisfaction, even if it is not his preferred position,” the deputy coach, Yves Colleu, told Cameroon Tribune as the team left Portugal for Serbia.

Georges Mandjeck displayed goodwill against Portugal but he still needs to improve his positioning.  He also has to think like a right-back and not a midfielder. The second Portuguese goal could have been avoided had Mandjeck been a regular right-back. He could not turn well, allowing the ball to bounce-off , leaving Merieles to  beat goalkeeper Idriss Kameni.

Will Le Guen return to his initial view of playing Mbia at right-back or will he stick to Mandjeck? Will he opt to play Geremi instead? The former Newcastle United captain is only regular right-back  in the 23-man squad. But, he is limited by lack of pace which does not allow him to freely shuttle from back-to-front-and-back again as Le Guen would want.

OTHER MATTERS

  • The training ground will also be the place where Le Guen would have to fine tune his offensive plans. He started with Maxim Choupo-Moting, Achille Emana and Samuel Eto’o as his front three against Portugal. Eto’o played on the right (and at times on the left) confirming (to Patrick  Mboma’s chagrin) that Le Guen does not plan to use Eto’o  as THE centre-forward.
  • Unfortunately, Eto’o picked-up a red card after 30 minutes and should not appear against Serbia. This means the preferred attacking line-up would not have been tested in a full game before the match against Japan.

Cameroon takes on Portugal in a tasty World Cup preparatory game on Tuesday. It will be Cameroon’s biggest challenge since they started preparations for the World Cup on 20 May and the first in which the whole squad including its captain, Samuel Eto’o, would be available.

Most importantly, it would be the best opportunity to verify if the Indomitable Lions’ coaching team has tackled issues such as : Samuel Eto’o’s position, who to play at right-back and the disconnect between the midfield and the attack.

What’s Eto’o’s position?

Paul Le Guen like his predecessors (Winfried Shaeffer, Arthur Jorge and Otto Pfister), is convinced that Samuel Eto’o is not a big, strong, leading central striker like Drogba, Torres, or Mboma. He believes Eto’o is better as part of a 3-man attack-line where he could be deployed on the left, right or centre as has been the case at Inter Milan (where Diego Milito is the centre-forward).

The other option is to play Eto’o as a second striker in the hole behind a big and strong forward. Eto’o excelled in that role alongside Patrick Mboma at the start of the century. (See video of how this worked perfectly in Mboma’s goal against Ireland at the 2002 World Cup).

Le Guen (like Otto Pfister before him) has used as the playmaker behind two strikers – against Egypt at the quarter-finals in Angola.

Most Cameroonians, though, see Eto’o as a finisher who must be at the tip of Cameroon’s offensive play. They think any other role is a waste of potential. He ends up acting like a defender instead of being a goal threat.

Where will he play at the World Cup? Should the staff choose to play him as the central striker (N°9) – who will be supporting him? If they maintain him as playmaker (N°10) – which two players will play in-front of him? Should he be asked to play the supporting role – who will be the Patrick Mboma (furthest striker forward)?

We may like or hate Samuel Eto’o’s personality; think he is not a good leader; wrongly or rightly believe he has underachieved in the Lions’ shirt compared to Patrick Mboma or Roger Milla; but he remains Cameroon’s most potent threat today. It is therefore important to know how he shall be deployed at the World Cup.

What is the missing link?

Cameroon has also found it hard to score in their recent encounters because the team – no link between the midfield and the attack. Observers like Roger Feutmba, a retired Cameroon international, believe that this is due the lack of flair players in the midfield.

“How do you expect attackers to have the ball in a position to score when there is no one to make the pass?” Feutmba asked on a programme broadcast by the private TV channel, STV.

Cameroon started against Slovakia with a midfield triangle of: Alex Song in the holding role ahead of the defence, Enoh Eyong Tarkang and Jean Makoun playing slightly ahead of him. The coordination was an improvement to what was seen in the game against Georgia but the killer pass to the forwards was still lacking.

“They are all defensive midfielders – how do you expect them to be creative!?” Feutmba said. The former offensive midfielder, however, agreed that Cameroon did not possess such creative players at the moment. He thus advised that the coach re-adapt the system to the kind of players he has at his disposal – playing in a 4-3-1-2 with Emana as the playmaker behind Eto’o and another striker.

Meanwhile, Cameroon is also lacking in quality wingers and offensive play on the flanks. Le Guen’s 4-3-3 formation has managed to conceal this shortcoming because attackers like Eto’o and Emana or full-backs such as Assou-Ekotto shoulder the responsibility of wing play. This worked during one-off qualifying matches but it didn’t function at the AFCON.

Who is running on the right flank?

The weakest link in the Indomitable Lions has, however, been the right-back position. The country has been unable to produce a top drawer full-back since Stephen Tataw retired. In 1998, Claude Le Roy and his assistant Pierre Mankowsky resolved the problem by tweaking Cameroon’s formation from 4-3-3 (under Jean Manga Ougene) to 3-5-2 before the Mondial in France.

This accommodated the country’s production line of defensive midfielders – Olembe, Wome, Geremi, Lauren, Ndo – who became powerful wing-backs in a system the Lions used until 2003.  Winfried Shaffer opted to play midfielders the like Geremi Njitap and Timothee Atouba as full-backs in his back four.

Presently, the right-back postion remains a real head-ache. Geremi’s lack of pace and explosion has forced the coach to drop him to the reserves bench.  He has tried Georges Mandjeck, Aurelien Chedjou, Abouna Ndzana, Makadji Boukar, Marcel Djeng but none has successfully imposed himself.

After the friendly against Italy in March, Paul Le Guen suggested that he would field Stephane Mbia at right-back.  The Marseilles player finished the season as the revelation of the year at centre-back. Will Cameroon’s coach stick to plan and use him as right-back?

Cameroon versus Portugal will be an insight to Le Guen’s strategy on all of these issues. The fact that the Portuguese (who are ranked 3rd in the World by FIFA) have worries of their own offers an interesting twist to the game.

Cameroon’s coach Paul Le Guen has named his final 23-man squad for the World Cup after dropping six players from the 29 who have been camping in Austria since 20 May.

Goalkeeper Amour Patrick Tingyemb (Bloemfontein Celtic), defender Makadji Boukar (Al Naddha), local based players Abouna Ndzana (Astres Douala), Patrick  Mevoungou(Canon Yaounde), striker Dorge Kouemaha (Club Bruges, Belgium), midfieder Marcel Ndjeng (Augusburg, Germany) have been dropped.

The squad includes 17 players who were in Angola last January for the Africa Cup of Nations. The newcomers are Vincent  Aboubakar who plays for Cotonsport Garoua in Cameroon’s elite league; Joel Matip (Shalke O4, Germany) who missed the AFCON for administrative reasons, Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham, England) and his club teammate Sebastien Bassong.

Le Guen also named Maxim Choupo-Moting (Nuremberg, Germany) and Gaetan Bong (Valencienne, France) although FIFA is yet to decide if the players, who have represented Germany and  France at  youth levels, can compete for Cameroon at senior level.

“I think I have selected the best 23 players to defend Cameroon at the World Cup,” Le Guen said on state run radio -CRTV.

He has, however, kept Marcel Ndjeng  as a 24th man until the final preparatory game against Serbia on 5 May in Belgrade. He would replace any player who drops from the squad due to injury or administrative problems.

“I asked Marcel Ndjeng to stay with us right through to Belgrade and I have told Dorge Kouemaha to be ready in case there is need,” he added.

A member of the Cameroon delegation in Austria told Gef’s Football Club that Le Guen was keen on taking Aboubakar who could be a surprise package.

Veterans Rigobert Song and Geremi Njitap as well as Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan, Italy) who threatened to miss the World Cup in anger over statements by 1990 hero Roger Milla are part of this pride of Indomitable Lions.

Here is the complete squad:

Goalkeepers: Guy Roland N’Dy Assembe (Valenciennes), Idriss Carlos Kameni (Espanyol), Hamidou Souleymanou (Kayserispor).

Defenders: Benoit Assou Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur), Sebastien Bassong (Tottenham Hotspur), Gaetan Bong (Valenciennes), Aurelien Chedjou (Lille), Geremi (Ankaragucu),  Nicolas Nkoulou (Monaco), Rigobert Song (Trabzonspor), Stephane Mbia (Marseille, France),

Midfielders: Enoh Eyong (Ajax Amsterdam), Jean Makoun (Olympique Lyon), Georges Mandjeck (Kaiserslautern), Joel Matip (Schalke 04), Landry Nguemo (Celtic), Alexandre Song (Arsenal)

Forwards: Vincent Aboubakar (Coton Sport), Eric Choupo-Moting (Nuremburg), Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan), Mohamadou Idrissou (Freiburg),  Achille Webo (Real Mallorca), Achille Emana (Real Betis).

The team which has been camping in Austria will now travel to Portugal where they will face the Portuguese national side in a friendly on 1 June. They drew 1-1 with Slovakia in their final test match on Austrian soil. Ajax Amsterdam’s Eyong Enoh Tarkang scored for the Indomitable Lions in the 85th minute of play.