Tag Archive: African Football


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).

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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.

Cameroon’s new coaching staff  face a tough start to their tenure after nine players they had short-listed for a series of international friendly matches in North Africa withdrew from the squad due to injuries.

With six defenders (3 centre-backs and 3 left fullbacks) unavailable for selection the head coach Denis Lavagne has to stitch up an all new defence line for Friday’s duel with Sudan.

Lavagne would have to play midfielders as defenders. He is lucky to have Joel Matip, Alex Song and Georges Mandjeck who have played in their European clubs at centre-back this season (or even before) whereas they are nominally holding midfielders.

It is likely that one of the right fullbacks (Allan Nyom) would have to slot into the left-back role in the match against Sudan. Two Cameroon based left fullbacks – Abouna Ndzana and Oyongo Bitolo – have been summoned to join the squad and they are expected to be available for selection in the next game.

Whatever the case, coordination would be a challenge, particularly in the defence, as the players have no prior knowledge of each other’s movements.

Denis Lavagne (left) and his assistant Ndtoungou Mpile (right) have to stitch-up the defence (Photo by Linus Pascal Fouda, Team Press Officer)

LAVAGNE’S OPTIONS

It is clear that the defence will be very young and inexperienced with all the probable starters having a grand total of  less than 20 international caps between them. But what about the midfield and attack?  Would Lavagne and his team go for more youthfulness?

For instance, would he dare to keep Samuel Eto’o on the bench and start with an attack line including the likes of Jacques Zoua, Bienvenu Ntsama and Vincent Aboubakar who used to play under his stewardship at Cotonsport Garoua in Cameroon?

The Lions need to be united to succeed despite the injuries (Photo by Linus Pascal Fouda, Cameroon Team Press Officer)

Lavagne had surely based his tactical options on the skills of certain players who are absent. It would be interesting to see how the Frenchman opts to play.

In the final days of Javier Clemente’s reign as Cameroon manager, the team seemed to be toying with a 3-man midfield and 4-3-3 formation. But the Spaniard often reverted to a 4-2-3-1. Would Lavagne stick to these formations?

I know that Lavagne’s assistant, Ndtoungou Mpile, favours the 4-4-2, usually with two holding midfielders and two wide men. When he needed to win a game at all cost, the former Junior Lions manager would field a diamond midfield (1 holding midfielder,2 shuttlers instead of wingers and 1 playmaker behind the front 2) .  Will Lavagne use these ideas?

Possible team: Ndy Assembe; Benoit Angbwa-Joel Matip, Georges Mandjeck – Allan Nyom; Landry N’Geumo, Enow Eyong, Alex Song; Samuel Eto’o, Choupo Moting, Jacques Zoua.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will face Guinea Bissau in the first phase of qualifiers of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

The home and away knock-out games will be played in January 2012 at the same time as the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

These will be the first competitive games for Cameroon’s newly appointed technical staff headed by Frenchman Denis Lavagne.

supporters getting ready

Cameroon fans have to get set for the upcoming games

The Nations Cup is being switched from even to odd years so there is only one year between the next two events.

As a result the qualifiers for the 2013 competition have been divided into three parts:

  • A first preliminary stage involving the four  lowest ranked teams that are not qualified for the Africa Cup in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. As such  Seychelles will play against Swaziland while Sao Tome take on Lesotho.
  • The winners of these games plus 26 other countries that have not qualified qualified for the 2012 edition of the Africa cup will face each other in head-to-head (home and away) knock out games (see pairings below).
  • The winners of these games will then be paired against teams that will participate in the 2012 Africa Cup. These games will also be home and away, head-to-head fixtures.
  • The fifteen teams that emerge from this process will join hosts South Africa in the 2013 tournament.

Here is the complete fixture list as drawn by the Confederation of African Football:

Preliminary round one:

Seychelles v Swaziland

Sao Tome v Lesotho

Preliminary round two:

Ethiopia v Benin

Rwanda v Nigeria

Congo Brazzaville v Uganda

Burundi v Zimbabwe

Algeria v The Gambia

Kenya v Togo

Sao Tome/Lesotho v Sierra Leone

Guinea Bissau v Cameroon

Chad v Malawi

Seychelles/Swaziland v DR Congo

Tanzania v Mozambique

Central African Republic v Egypt

Madagascar v Cape Verde

Liberia v Namibia

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.

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…

The Flying Eagles of Nigeria beat the Junior Lions of Cameroon 3-2 after extra-time to lift the Africa Youth Championship trophy on Sunday.

The winning goal was scored two minutes into prolongations after both teams had separated 2-2 following 90 minutes of football.

Nigeria had drawn first blood at the 74th minute when a rare error by Cameroon’s centre-back allowed  Nigerian striker Olanrewaju Kayode to beat  goalkeeper Jean Efala for the opening goal.

Kayode was to come back five minutes later to haunt Cameroon pushing goalkeeper Efala to foul him for a penalty that was scored by the tournament’s best goal scorer Uche Nwofor (4 goals).

The Lions’ never-say-die attitude  however got them back into contention for the title that has eluded them since 1995. Frank Ohandza shot from inside the box to reduce  the tally to 2-1 at the 82nd minute. Cotonsport Garoua’s Edgar Salli added a second at the 85th minute to take both teams to extra-time.

Cameroon, who were playing their second prolongation in the competition, lost concentration in the opening minutes of this phase of the game and conceded a goal scored by substitute Terry Enyoh.

It is the second consecutive U-20 Cup final that Cameroon’s Junior Lions are losing. They were beaten 2-0 by Ghana two years ago in Rwanda.

We’ll be back with an overview of the cubs’ tournament.

Cameroon beat the Gambia 1-0 to kick-start their CAF under-20 Africa Cup of Nations campaign in South Africa on Monday. The boys coached by Martin Ndtoungou Mpile were tactically disciplined, controlled most of the game and could (should) have won by more goals were it not for poor finishing and a really bad pitch.

Ndtoungou Mpile set the squad in a 4-4-2 and seemed to have insisted on the boys playing their way up-field instead of flinging long balls over the midfield (as has become common-place among many Cameroon national sides).

The team was compact when it lost the ball with all-four midfielders – Edgar Sally (on the right), Atouba Emane (on the left), Frank Kom and Nyantchou (in the centre) – chasing and harassing the Gambian players for the ball. The two attackers also put pressure high up the field when Cameroon lost possession, pushing the Gambians to skip their midfield via long-balls which were easily managed by the  Cameroonians.

Cameroon’s goalkeeper, Jean Konguep, spent long-spells of the game as a mere spectator. He was only startled back to life at the 72nd minute when he hesitated to come for the ball leaving a Gambian attacker the chance to shoot. Konguep parried the ball away but it fell to another opponent leading to some panicky clearance by the defence.

Both teams were, however, hindered by the poor playing surface. It looked like a farm overrun by a herd of cattle in the rainy season.

It appears all the teams play on the same turf.  Nigeria had beaten Ghana 2-1 on the same ground a few minutes before Cameroon and the Gambia locked-horns.

Yet, Cameroon constantly created movement on the flanks where the full-backs often surged forward through overlapping runs that created passing possibilities for their offensive and midfield team mates.

This hallmark of teams coached by Ndtoungou Mpile, ran the Gambians ragged particularly on the right flank where the full-back Serge Leuko and the offensive midfielder Edgar Salli seemed not to notice the state of the pitch.

Leuko, who plays for Levante in Spain, is one to watch because he is playing in position where there seems to a drought in quality for Cameroon for years.

On the left-flank Atouba displayed a very high work rate while Edimo Toko who replaced him in the dying moments of the game exuded sleekness and better technique. This showed in a brilliant run into the 18-yard box which ended with hard tackle from a Gambian defender. The Cameroon bench asked for a penalty but only got a corner – one of the dozen the team won.

But most of Cameroon’s possession was missused by strikers who  shot when they had to pass, and passed when it was time to shoot. Cameroon scored from a set-piece at the last minute of the first-half which is  testimony to their wastefulness in-front of goal in open-play.

The goal was scored by Cotonsport Garoua’s Edgar Salli whose hopeful kick was fluffed by the Gambian goalkeeper and dropped into the net. Ndtoungou Mpile must work on his team’s finishing before their next game against a very brilliant Nigerian side that gave the reigning African and World Champions, Ghana, a run for their money.

Between the 70th and 80th minutes the midfield had a serious deep in energy levels creating space for the Gambians who had their best spell in the game. Cameroon escaped that time because of it’s centre-back pairing – Yaya Banana and Ghislain Mvom – who played for the U-20s at the World Cup in 2009. They were calm and confident but they weren’t really tested by the Gambians – that won’t be the case against Nigeria.

It was good to watch a team coached by Ndtoungou Mpile again. He was Winfried Schaffer’s assistant when the Indomitable Liosn reached the final of the Confederations Cup in 2003.He has twice been involved in qualifying Cameroon for the Olympic Games (was Akono’s assistant in the 2000 gold medal winning squad) and has won the All Africa Games gold medal with the u-23 in 2007.

His 2008 crop of Olympic Lions were a blend of steel and beautiful play. It is surprising that authorities decided to demote him to the U-20s. The fact that his, is the only Cameroon national team to have qualified for a tournament this far is a vindication of his prowess.

West Ham’s Demba Ba came on as a late substitute for Senegal against Cameroon but his short-stay on the pitch will be remembered for years because of the goal he scored in injury-time when it seemed the game was heading to a scoreless draw.

Achille Webo attacking 26 March 2011 Dakar Gef

Achille Webo misses an opportunity to score against Senegal

Ba benefitted from Issa Diar’s hard work on the left side of the Teranga Lions’ attack and  a moment of hesitation from, an otherwise uncompromising, Cameroon back-line of Benoit Amngwa, Nicolas Nkoulou, Stephane Mbia and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

The consequences of that goal are dire for Cameroon and heavenly for Senegal.

The Cameroonians are now five points adrift of Senegal which tops group “E” of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. They (Lions of the Teranga) have nine points after three victories.

Only the first team in each of the 12 qualifying groups will make it to the  tournament  in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next year.

They will be joined by the two overall  best second-placed teams in the qualification campaign as well as the co-hosts.

Mathematically, Cameroon could still qualify and even top their group.  For that to happen, though, they need Senegal to lose twice (or at least lose once and draw once) while Cameroon wins all her games. Will that happen?

At the pre-match press-conference in Dakar, Cameroon’s captain, Samuel Eto’o said even a defeat would not mean the end of the world. He might not be wrong but the reality is often different. He looked troubled after the Senegalese goal.

cameroon fans dakar 26 mars 2011

Fans display a large Cameroon flag on 26 March 2011 in Dakar against Senegal

As thousands of Senegalese fans jubilated – it seemed they were clearly seeing their team in Equatorial Guinea and/or Gabon. Just a point from the game against Cameroon in Yaounde (or is it Garoua?) will see them through. And who knows, they might choose to acclamatise in Cameroon! (Well, we’re not there yet)!

Hundreds of Cameroonians were at the Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium. They were hit by the late goal but their joie de vivre was admirable as they kept on dancing and singing hours after the game.

It is rare to see supporters of Cameroon’s Lions in such a mood after a defeat. So thumbs up to the fans who were in Dakar on that Saturday evening.