Category: Remember this Game?

Whoever becomes Cameroon’s next head coach will have to watch a video of the Indomitable Lions’ 3-0 defeat of Poland. It wasn’t that spectacular. It wasn’t completely smooth. It wasn’t against the African Champions, talk less of the World Champions. It was simply the sweet taste of victory after a run of 10 games without a win.

What did Jacques Songo’o (interim coach) do that hadn’t been done since January 2010?

Surely, there must have been something different.

1. The team played in a 4-4-2 formation using old-fashioned wingers. Henri Bedimo on the  left  and Marcel Ndjeng on the right  drove Cameroon’s game forward alongside the over-lapping Benoit Assou-Ekotto (left-back) in particular, and Augustin Binya (right-back).

Many pundits claim this formation is dying or dead. They argue that most teams play with 3 to 5 midfielders who would out-number any central midfield of just two men. Variations of 4-3-3, such as 4-2-1-3 or 4-2-3-1 are now en vogue (Paul Le Guen should be smiling)! Nonetheless, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United appeared in a 4-4-2 and beat a Chelsea side that was using 4-3-3 at the Community Shield (3-1 the scoreline).

Most managers say a formation alone is never really the decider. One needs the right men to make those formations work to create the necessary offensive and defensive moves.

2. There was cover/movement on the flanks. The presence of these “wingers” provided cover for the full-backs in the event of a quick counter-attack. At the World Cup in South Africa, once Assou-Ekotto ,the most daring of the full-backs, surged forward there was no-one to take the space he had left behind him. The opposing teams simply had to hoof the ball over to his vacant position to create dangerous counter-offensives.

With Bedimo ahead of  Assou-Ekotto, the left back didn’t need to make risky forays into the opposing camp.When he did Bedimo and/or Sebastien Bassong (centre-back) shifted into his zone. Ndjeng, Binya and Nicolas Nkoulou did the same on the right.

3. The virtues of team-work and solidarity on display. If the Lions dominated play for long spells  it was not due to the change in formation alone.  The players and different compartments (defence, midfield attack) put in a shift for each other. Football is a team sport. If a unit does not move to replace another part which is in difficulty, there are holes everywhere for the opponent to penetrate.

Aurelien Chedjou displayed such abnegation to plug the holes created by his mates. He confirmed that he is a midfielder and not a centre-back or full-back. His strengths being technique (seen in his two assists for Eto’o), positional awareness and ability to intercept opposition passes without reckless tackles.

4. Eto’o played as a central striker, scored and was subbed. The skipper played alongside Maxim Choupo-Moting in a front two that needs more games together. However, his brace was  typical goal-poacher’s art. He has scored in every game since he was re-positioned as a central striker. He put his experience to use by drifting to the left-flank and dropping deep into midfield positions to create opportunities for his attacking mates.  When he looked tired he was substituted. Oh yes, it can be done.

5. Improved set-pieces. Cameroon scored from a corner kick. It’s so rare it can make news headlines. There was designated specialist so, we didn’t see 7 different persons taking corners in a single match. Marcel Ndjeng showed great quality at this task. The balls  reached useful areas in the 18-yard unlike in the past. Free-kicks also need such discipline in the days ahead.

6. Hunger. This team wanted to win or at least prove that it wasn’t useless. The way the substitutes Bienvenue Tsama and Vincent Aboubacar stormed into the game is testimony to this. Tsama scored upon his second touch but the goal was disallowed for an offside position. Aboubacar slotted his first for the national team less than 10 minutes after coming-in for Eto’o. Is  such motivation and desire to impress down to a Jacques Songo’o effect alone? The Lions were simply hungry.

6. Consistency to build confidence  and partnerships. Songo’o chose to build confidence and understanding between Nkoulou and Bassong  at the centre of defence. I believe it’s the best way of solidifying what I consider the country’s best centre-back pairing.  They are comfortable with the ball, read the game well, hardly foul recklessly and they’re complementary. One of Paul Le Guen’s weaknesses was his constant tinkering. He hardly played with the same team for two games.

With Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia suspended for the game against Mauritius  Songo’o could have tested the Bikey-Bassong partnership from the start. When Bikey came on as a substitute he was heavy and out of pace. Maybe he’s rusty because the season is barely starting. He could also be low on confidence after dropping in the pecking order. In another game and against tougher opponents his fouls and wrong passes would have cost Cameroon severely.

7. The seeds Le Guen sowed have begun to germinate under Songo’o.   Apart from Eto’o, Makoun, Binya and Bikey who were established Lions prior to Le Guen’s tenure (and Bienvenue Tsama called-up for the first time by Songo’o), eleven players who appeared in that game were either handed their first cap and/or given regular starting places  under the French-born manager.

His legacy could be seen on the pitch against Poland. Le Guen chose to dare and give a chance to a new generation players in a country where gerontocracy rules supreme and leaders revel in their glories passed instead of paving the way for future conquests.

He ultimately failed to deliver a trophy or a World Cup quarter-final berth. He led the team to a terrible streak of poor results. He was stubborn, intractable, reportedly cost a fortune and he admitted that his casting for the World Cup was poor.

Many are surely glad to see the back of him, others don’t want his name pronounced again but let’s give him credit where it is due. He planted seeds called Aboubacar, Choupo-Moting, Enoh, Bong, Bedimo, Ndjeng, Mandjeck, Chedjou, Nkoulou, Bassong, Ndy Assembe that have begun to sprout.

As Jacques Songo’o, a Cameroon international from 1983 to 2002 (including two years as skipper), led this pride of  Lions to victory in Poland, souvenirs of the disappointing displays in Angola and South Africa crossed my mind. Things could have been different. Will they ever be different in Cameroon?


It was 8 June 1990 and the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in Italy. Cameroon was up against reigning world champions Argentina. At the 65th minute of play, Francois Omam Biyick rose high (his boots reaching and Argentine defenders shoulder) and met the ball from a deflected Emmanuel Kunde free-kick. The header was stunning. The Argentine goalkeeper, Pompidou, fumbled and the ball wriggled into the net.

It was Cameroon 1 – Argentina 0. That was the final scoreline.

The Indomitable Lions became the first sub-Saharan African team to win a match at the FIFA World Cup. Being the tournament opener and against an Argentina side that included Diego Maradona, the world’s best footballer at the time, this caught the international media spotlight.

Football had put Cameroon on the world map.

A goal stipped in drama

The Lions went on to play the quarter-finals of the competition but that win at the Guissepe Meazza (San Siro) stadium in Milan remains the fondest of footballing triumphs in the hearts of most Cameroonian soccer fans.

The drama that preceded the goal may have contributed to that mystique. It came barely four minutes after Omam’s brother, Kana Biyick, was sent-off with a straight red card by French referee Michel Vautrot. Kana was an athletic midfielder who rigourously partook in the team’s defensive balance . The coaches had to substitute the more offensive Louis Paul M’fede for a defence-minded Thomas Libih. The free-kick that led to the goal would have been taken by Louis Paul M’fede, if the latter had not been replaced only seconds before Kundé took the shot.

It was 19 years ago, but it still appears as if it was yesterday.

Time to move on

Understandably, nostalgia is part of life. However, it is time to make new conquests and raise the bar even higher. Cameroon may have become a recognizable name in world football as a result of the 1990 performance but the Lions have been bundled out of the first round of every FIFA World Cup since then (1994, 1998, and 2002).

What is more, Senegal reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in 2002 (also beating a reigning champion France); Nigeria has gone on to play 2 eighth finals (1994 and 1998); whereas Cameroon didn’t even make it to the 2006 edition in Germany.

Recent prides of Indomitable Lions have made other triumphs : 2 Africa Cup of Nations (2000 and 2002), an Olympic gold medal (Sydney 2000), a final of the FIFA Confederations Cup (2003). Curiously, that sweetness of the 8 June 1990 victory against Argentina and the subsequent run in that World Cup seem to outshine these recent successes in the hearts of football lovers.

That should be a pointer to the current crop of players, that a successful showing at a FIFA World Cup remains the biggest stage for any nation and its players regardless of the numerous regional tournaments or club competitions they may win. In such a context, qualifying for the next World Cup becomes almost an imperative and crossing the first round appears as the measuring rod. That is, if these players want to cast their names in gold in Cameroon football history.

What separates lions from cubs?

Years have come and gone but these names remain eternal: Thomas N’kono, Stephen Tataw, Victor Ndip Akem, Benjamin Massing, Bertin Ebwele, Emmanuel Kunde, Emile Mbouh, André Kana Biyick, Louis Paul M’fede, Cyrille Makanaky, Francois Omam Biyick, Thomas Libih, Roger Milla. They were the men who stood-up to Maradona’s Argentina.

Are the current Lions men enough to upstage these heroes from the minds of Cameroonians?

Luckily, they have three men who were present in Milan on 8 June 1990 as part of the current coaching and administrative staff. The interim head coach,Thomas N’kono, was the goalkeeper then. Interim assistant coach, Kaham Michel, was part of the group of  4 coaches at the time (the others were Valeri Nepomiachi, Jean Manga Ougene and Jules Nyongha). The current deputy administrative director of the national team, Stephen Tataw, was the captain of the Indomitable Lions.

Hopefully, their stories will inspire today’s generation to feats of brilliance that will put Cameroon on the world soccer map again.

Cameroon players celebrate Kundé's goal

Cameroon players celebrate Kundé's goal

Does the date 27 March 1988 mean anything to you? If you are a fan of the Indomitable Lions it should. This day 21 years ago at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca-Morocco the Cameroon national football team won the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time. As fate would have it, it was against the same Nigeria that they won their first trophy in 1984  and their third in 2000.

The game was not the most spectacular soccer match to have graced the earth. There were a few half chances for Cameroon through Milla and Makanaky Cyrille (the revelation of the tournament) for Cameroon. Henry Nwosu scored a goal that was dissallowed for offside and  late Samuel Okwaraji powered some thunderbolt shots for Nigeria. Peter Rufai (Nigeria) and Joseph-Antoine Bell (Cameroon) displayed great goalkeeping skills and kept parity (0-0).

That was the scoreline until Roger Milla sleekly dribbled his way into the Nigerian defence taking Stephen Keshi and the other Green Eagles defenders off-guard. He was brought down in the 18-yard box. Emmanuel Kundé stepped-up and drove a hard penalty shot that Peter Rufai could not stop. It is that single goal that handed the Indomitable Lions their second African crown.  In the process, Cameroon set a mean statistic. They had won the competition after scoring only four goals.

Milla who had announced that he was retiring from international soccer may have been the star of the team. But its bedrock was its defense. Stephen Tataw (now deputy administrative director of the national team) had shone as a valiant right-back; Charles Ntarmack was still his rigorous self at left-back; Massing Benjamin was as rugged as Song Rigobert (if not more) at the central defence and Kunde’s intelligience and reading of the game as a libéro was next to none.

They were so good that the Pharoahs of Egypt (reputed as Cameroon’s nemesis) were unable to score one past Jacques Songo’o who stood-in for Jopseph Antoine Bell in the opening group game that Cameroon won 1-0. Late Samuel Okwaraji was the only player to have scored against Cameroon in that competition when he rifled lightening strike from 30-metres that stretched Bell. The third group game against Kenya was a scoreless draw while the semi-final against host Morocco would always be remembered for Cyrille Makanaky’s only goal for the Indomitable Lions.

Milla Lifts Trophy

Milla Lifts Trophy

My memories of 27 March 1988 include the fact that the then Prince (now King) of Morocco who chaired the final did not hand the  trophy to  Mbouh Mbouh Emile, captain of the Indomitable Lions at the time. It was agreed that as a tribute to Roger Milla who had announced his retirement from international soccer, the old Lion should be honoured.  Who could forsee that he would return to emerge as hero in two Fifa World Cup touranaments (Italia 1990 and USA 1994)!?

As the present day Indomitable Lions sharpen their claws and prepare their teeth to hunt some Sparrow-hawks this 28 March 2009,  maybe this tale should be told to the defenders so that they honour their elders who built the prestige on which they thrive today. It should alos serve as awakening for them to make their own history by remaining mean defensively and dealing the deadly blow up-front. Isn’t that the simple plan for Cameroon versus Togo?

There are many who claim that Cameroon’s rise to top of the stakes in football started at the FIFA World Cup in 1990. I am not one of those. I posit that the hand-writing was on the wall in Spain 1982, and the legend took shape during the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosted by Ivory Coast  in 1984.

On 18 March 1984, for the first time in the Cameroon’s soccer history, a national side won an international trophy. It wasn’t just any, it was the Africa Cup of Nations (video follows).

That golden generation of 1982 gifted with raw talent, skill and patriotism had matured to a team blessed with football wizardry. Having Abega Théophile nicknamed “doctor” for the science of his game, Roger Milla (Africa’s greatest striker of all times) and Gregoire Mbida (nicknamed “Arantes” in reference to the legendary Pélé) on the same squad was magic to bestow.

Add to these, the energy of Ebongue Ernerst a.k.a “Bouboule”, the toughness of Toubé Charles and Aoudou Ibrahim, a dose of  Réné Djeya’s shots, Kundé Emmanuel’s class (that could fill Pirlo with envy), Joseph Antione Bell’s confidence at goal and you have a Cup winning side.

It was 25 years ago.It was the birth of  winning spirit: the never say die attitude that has become synonymous to Cameroon national football teams.

The team that won the trophy in Abidjan this had lost 0-1 to Egypt in its opening game but ressurected like sphnyx crushing hosts Ivory Coast 2-0 and walloping Togo 4-1 before facing Algeria in a gruelling semi-final.

I still remember how my whole family sat around the radio set on that occasion, weaving images of Bell stopping penalties as described by Zachary Nkwo and Abel Mbengue on Radio Cameroon. Cameroon did not have television station at the time but I can tell you with precision every move that was made then.

The same fighting spirit re-emerged at the final when they came from one goal down to beat the Green Eagles (that were still to become Super) by 3 goals to 1.

That indomitable spirit has not left the team and the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana (though not as succesful) is testimony to that. Sadly, the finesse seems to have disappeared. The breath-taking  combinations (Abega-Milla-Milla-Abega) in the second goal which  left the Ivorian TV commentator gasping for air are quite rare now.

It is in honour of these men who laid the foundation of Cameroon’s domination of the African game  that I launch  Gef’s football Club at this time of the year.  It is a small celebration of the 25th annivesary of the men whose names should be engraved on tablets of gold: Joseph-Antoine Bell, Charles Toubé, René N’Djeya, Francois Ndoumbé Lea, Isaac Sinkot, Théophile Abéga, Grégoire Mbida, Ibrahim Aoudou, Ernest Ebongué, Roger Milla, Bonaventure N’Djonkep ,Emmanuel Kundé, Nicolas Makon, Ruben Félix Mamilo, Dagobert Dang, Luc Mbassi, Jacques Songo’o, Herman Kingué, Elie Onana, Jacques Nguéa, Thomas Nkono and Paul Alain Eyobo.