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After Cameroon’s 2-2 draw with Germany in a friendly, Volker Finke, the head coach of the Indomitable Lions, has named the 23 players to defend the country’s colours at the soccer World Cup that kicks-off in Brazil next week.

All of the Cameroon players who started in the final qualifying game against Tunisia have made it into the final 23-man squad for Brazil 2014. Pic Credit: Olivier Nseke

All of the Cameroon players who started in the final qualifying game against Tunisia have made it into the final 23-man squad for Brazil 2014. Pic Credit: Olivier Nseke

Two players – Cedric Djeugoue and Loic Feudjou – who play in the  Cameroon’s  top league are included in the squad. Two other youngsters: Swiss-based Fabrice Olinga and and France-based Edgar Salli make it to Brazil.

Goalkeeper Ndy Assembe, defenders Jean-Armel Kana Biyick and Gaetan Bong; as well as midfielder Raoul Loe and attacker Mohammadou Idrissou were left out by the German trainer.

If fans generally expected that Idrissou and Loe would not be part of the final squad to fly to Brazil, it wasn’t so clear for the three others. Assembe, who was at the last World Cup, appeared to be the second choice keeper behind Charles Itandje but the coach preferred Loic Feudjou and Samy Ndjock as back-up goalies.

Guy-Armel Kana Biyick, the son of Andre Kana Biyick who played for Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup, seems to have lost his place due to a niggling injury that he carried throughout the training camp in Austria. Although it must also be said that the France-based player had lost his spot as Nicolas N’Koulou’s partner in the centre of defence since Finke took over in May 2013. The German often paired N’koulou and Aurelien Chedjou; and N’Koulou and Joel Matip in the last two games.

There were 3 candidates (Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Henri Bedimo and Gaetan Bong) for just 2 spots as left-back. Bong, who was at the World Cup in 2010, lost out to the man whose place he took four years ago. At the time, coach Paul Leguen surprisingly left out Bedimo who had been part of the qualifiers and played the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Bedimo has had a great season at Lyon in France while Assou-Ekotto is quite an experienced hand in that position.

Here’s the full List:

Goalkeepers

Charles Itandje (Konyaspor/TUR)
Sammy Ndjock (Fetihespor/TUR)
Loïc Feudjou (Coton Sport/CMR)

Defenders

Allan Nyom (Grenada/Spain)
Dany Nounkeu (Besiktas/TUR)
Cédric Djeugoue (Coton Sport/ CMR)
Aurélien Chedjou (Galatasaray/TUR)
Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille/FRA)
Henri Bedimo (Lyon/FRA)
Benoît Assou-Ekotto (QPR/England)

Midfielders

Eyong Enoh (Antalyaspor/TUR)
Jean II Makoun (Rennes/FRA)
Joel Matip (Schalke/Germany)
Stéphane Mbia (Sevilla/Spain)
Landry Nguémo (Bordeaux/FRA)
Alex Song (FC Barcelona/Spain)
Edgar Salli (Lens/FRA)

Forwards

Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea/England)
Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (Mainz/Germany)
Benjamin Moukandjo (Nancy/FRA)
Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient/FRA)
Achille Webo (Fenerbahçe/TUR)
Fabrice Olinga (Zulte-Waregem/BEL)

Cameroon’s head coach, Volker Finke, has named 28 players in his provisional squad for the World Cup to take place in Brazil in June, the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) said on Monday.

Apart from the inclusion of two players – Loic Feudjou and Cédric Djeugoue – who ply their trade in Cameroon’s top league, there are few surprises in the squad, which includes 16 players who were at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Youngsters Edgar Salli and Fabrice Olinga who have been on the fringes of the squad have a chance to show their worth before the final cast of 23 is named.

There is no space for veteran goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni and England based defender Sebastien Bassong.

Here’s the 28-man squad and the two players on a standby list:

GoalKeepers

1. Charles Itanje

2. Guy-Roland Ndy Assembe

3. Sammy Ndjock

4. Loic Feudjou

Defenders

5. Allan Nyom

6. Dany Nounkeu

7. Cédric Djeugoue

8. Aurelien Chedjou

9. Nicolas Nkoulou

10. Guy-Armel Kana Biyick

11. Henri Bedimo

12. Benoît Assou Ekotto

13. Gaetang Bong

Midfielders

14. Eyong Enow Tarkang

15. Jean II Makoun

16. Joel Matip

17. Stéphane Mbia

18. Landry Nguemo

19. AlexandreSong

20. Cedric Loe

21. Edgar Sally

Fowards

22. Samuel Eto’o Fils

23. Eric Maxime Choupo Moting

24. Benjamin Moukandjo

25. Vincent AboubaKar

26. Achille Webo

27. Idrissou Mohamadou

28. Fabrice Olinga

Standby List

1. Zock (Cosmos Bafia)

2. Franck Banyack

Cameroon’s national soccer team the Indomitable Lions must defeat the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde by at least three clear goals on Sunday to obtain a ticket to  South Africa for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Cape Verde beat Cameroon  2-0 last month in the first-leg encounter.

The thought of missing a second AFCON in a row has led to desperate moves from the government, football officials and fans.  Authorities sacked the French-born coach who was in-charge of the team and installed Jean Paul Akono barely days after the defeat. Akono then pushed authorities to convince the team captain Samuel Eto’o to return to the squad after he suspended his international career last month.

He  picked several players who featured during his spells as head coach of the U-23 (Olympic) Lions and the senior Indomitable Lions between 2000 and 2004.  Achille Webo, Modeste Mbami, Pierre Wome, Jean Makoun, Angbwa Ossomeyong have not been in the den for a while but the Olympic Gold Medal winning coach thinks their experience will be a deciding factor in the weekend’s duel. The media thinks it is a sign of desperation.

Who knows? The coach may be banking on the views of Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century British Prime Minister, novelist and bon viveur who once said that “desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.”  Cameroon’s fortunes depend on Akono’s tactical genius.

Akono favours playing a high defensive line with  attackers and midfielders who harry and press opponents throughout the game. Can his “experienced players”  have the energy and fitness levels required for this?

According to reporters who have observed the team train all week, particularly the practice match against local (division 3) side  on Wednesday, the coach is plotting a flat 4-4-2 formation. He has regularly started with Idris Kameni as goalkeeper,  Angbwa as rightback and Wome as leftback; a very young central defence partnership of Guy Armel Kana Biyick and Nicolas Nkoulou. He has played with Alex Song, Jean Makoun, Idrissou and Mevoungou in midfield while Achille Emana or Eto’o and Webo have played as strikers.

MIDFIELD DIAMOND

On the overall scheme of things, Akono seems to be respecting his promise to set-up an attack-minded team (they beat the local side 5-1).  But a few things seem unclear, though. Is he playing an old-fashioned 4-4-2 with a double-pivot (of Makoun and Song) in central midfield and traditional wingers? Who are the wingers? Idrissou can put a shift on the left but his crossing is awful (he’s a striker) while  Mevoungou and Emana don’t enjoy playing on the flanks. How he tackles the issue would determine the attacking flow of the game.

If Cameroon must play a 4-4-2 formation,  I believe they are more suited to operate with a ‘diamond’  midfield due to the lack of true wingers among the current crop of players. They have hardworking midfielders to intercept (break-down) moves by opponents and shuttle from box-to-box. They also have relatively good  fullbacks who can  overlap to provide width rather than forcing reluctant central midfielders and  strikers into becoming the wingers.

For instance, they could start with:  Kameni (gk) – Allan Nyom or Angbwa (RB) and Wome (LB); Kana-Biyick (CB) Nkoulou (CB) in defence.  A midfield diamond with  either Alex Song or Joel Matip sat deep in space in-front of the back-four, Makoun a little ahead  to the left, Mevoungou or higher up on the right and Overtoom  at the tip of the diamond, behind Eto’o  or Achille Emana and Webo.

However they choose to play (and I won’t be surprised to see them playing a 3-5-2 formation with Kana, Nkoulou, Chedjou or Matip at the back) it won’t be a ride in the park. Cape Verde have been training as well and are so good that they outplayed Cameroon in Praia.

Cameroon have been down this road before. Eight veteran Lions visited the current pride to share their experience of backs-to-the-wall games. Roger Milla (CAF African Player of the 20th Century), Joseph Antoine Bell (1984 & 1988 AFCON winner), Theophile Abega (1984 AFCON winning captain), Bonaventure Njonkep (1984 AFCON winner) and Victor Ndi Akem, Eugene Ekeke and Thomas Libih (1990 World Cup quarter-finalists) sought to pass on the indomitable spirit of the past.

But what will be the story by 6p.m. on Sunday? Will fans be celebrating as wildly as they did on 10th October 1993 after Cameroon defeated Zimbabwe 3-1 to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.?  Will Eto’o and Webo be weeping inconsolably on the turf of the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium as they did after the  Lions drew 1-1 with Egypt on 8th October 2005 and failed to reach the 2006  World Cup in Germany?

Cameroon defeated Guinea Bissau 1-0 in Yaounde to sneak into the final round of qualifiers for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa.

The Indomitable Lions were held on their own turf for 81 minutes by a resilient Guinea Bissau side until forward Benjamin Moukandjo beat goalkeeper Jonas Mendes following a cross from the left flank by substitute Yannick Ndjeng.

“They played with eight players in the defence and it was difficult for us,” said Martin Ndtoungou Mpile, Cameroon’s deputy head coach. “But at the end we won,” Ndtoungou added in a post-match interview with Cameroon’s State-run TV (CRTV).

While the coaches and the players were visibly satisfied with the result,  pundits on TV and Cameroonians reacting on internet forums have expressed disgust at the quality of play served by the Lions. The team had the ball possession and made endless passes in midfield and outside the Guinea Bissau penalty area but lacked penetration.

The final ball was poor and the finishing from some of the players was near abysmal. The few fans who had turned up to watch the Lions at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium were so disgusted with some of the misses that they spent their time chanting the name of “Eto’o,” the suspended skipper of the national team.

Head coach Denis Lavagne would surely point to the fact that Cameroon played higher up the field than in any other game under his tenure but critics would argue that this was against a weak Bissau team that had come to defend and left the ball to the Lions (who visibly didn’t know what to do with it).

Pundits remarked that the team still couldn’t find a working link between midfield and attack with Alexandre Song, who had to play that role, missing in action for much of the game. Some of his best through balls were made when he was playing from a deeper position than that of the anchor behind the strikers.

Henri Bedimo, the left-back made a number pf overlapping runs and some crosses in what seemed the only other means of outwitting the Bissau side. Georges Mandjeck, the midfielder who plays as right full-back under Lavagne, made a few forward runs as well but nothing really happened until the coach substituted the big centre-forward, Leonard Kweuke.

Ndjeng, who replaced Kweuke, was more mobile – dropping deep and making runs across the area – to drag the opposing defenders out of position. He was assisted in this by Vincent Aboubakar who (controversially) replaced Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, the team’s current goal-poacher. Aboubakar dribbled and took the game into the opposing area but his finishing was sub-standard mainly due to his over-exuberance.

There was relief for the Lions when Ndjeng centred from the left for Moukandjo to score after what seemed on television like the ball had touched the Nancy striker’s hand.

Cameroon go through on a 2-0 aggregate since they had also defeated Guinea Bissau 1-0 in the away leg game played in Bissau last February.

It was Lavagne’s third 1-0 victory in four competitive outings as Cameroon coach. He has only lost one game (2-1 to Libya) since taking over in October/November 2011. But the near empty stands were very telling about what Cameroonian fans think of their national squad these days.

NB: Cameroon’s starting line-up [playing 4-3-3].

GK: Idriss Kameni

RB: Georges Mandjeck; LB: Henri Bedimo; CB: Nicolas Nkoulou (capt.) and Aurelien Chedjou

Midfielders: Stephane Mbia, Alex Song, Landry Ngeumo

RF: Choupo-Moting; CF: Leonard Kweuke; LF: Benjamin Moukandjo

Substitutions:

-Yannick Ndjeng in for Kweuke

-Vincent Aboubakar in for Choupo

-William Overtoom in for Moukandjo.

CORRECTED: Paragraph 12 to indicate that the player supposed to mark the Libyan who scored was Yannick Ndjeng and not Mbuta Andongcho.  And Paragraph 14 to take off a similar reference to Andongcho.

Libya’s Ahmed Osman headed in a corner at the very last minute (90′+3) to give his country victory over Cameroon in African zonal qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Libyan’s had taken an early lead through Ahmed Zouay  who beat goalkeeper Carlos Kameni with a powerful header barely 8 minutes into the game. Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting scored Cameroon’s only goal from a powerful free-kick at the edge of the 18-yard area. But he could not save Cameroon this time around…

Cameroon coach Denis Lavagne supervising training – has he got things wrong?
Picture credit: Linus Pascal Fouda (Team Press Officer)

It was becoming the new routine: Cameroon would play badly, unable to create opportunities but win through a goal by Choupo-Moting. It was the case in Guinea-Bissau and versus the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yaounde. The head coach Denis Lavagne and those who back him would then claim that the most important thing is victory, regardless of how it came about. Fair enough…but many (including Gef’s Football Club) warned that many things were not right. The same points led to Sunday’s defeat in Sfax:

1. Too many defensive players, hardly any creators: Lavagne played against Libya with seven players (Nkoulou, Chedjou, Mandjeck, Bedimo, Mbia, Song, Nguemo) who regularly hold defensive positions for their clubs. This is basically what he has been doing since he took over but he went one step further in Sfax where Alex Song was the player supporting the main striker in the first half. There is no denying that Song, Mbia and Ngeumo can push forward but they are hardly creators.

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

In the absence of such, when in possession Cameroon spent the time passing the ball around midfield with no penetration.  This was the case against Libya, DRC and Guinea Bissau.

2. No directness and urgency: Cameroonian teams are not the fastest in the world. The game is often played at a slow tempo because of the athleticism of the players (often big and tough). Cameroon teams often rely on their power and their ability to counter-attack. However, for this work the teams are also very direct i.e. they make quick straight passes forward via midfield in order to catch the opposition off-guard (Not just lumping long balls to the big man up top).

But Lavagne’s teams have so far been ponderous in their build-up, allowing the opponents to re-organise their defensive shapes. Only Choupo-Moting has the ability to dribble in small spaces but since he was also the only one up top (to score), it was hard to break the Libyans. It was the same situation versus Guinea Bissau and DRC but the Lions were lucky that he managed to get the winning goals.

3. Mis-use of available resources (players): Why would Lavagne tell the world that Willy Overtoom who switched allegiance from Holland to Cameroon would bring that creativity (as playmaker) that the Lions lack only to keep the boy on the reserve bench for 180 minutes during which a defensive midfielder (Song) was played as a number 10? Is Overtoom not up to the hype surrounding him?

Why did Lavagne decide to play Georges Mandjeck (a central midfielder and centreback) as a right fullback when Allan Nyom – a regular right fullback was on the bench? At the end of the day, Mandjeck was in such trouble that the right forward, Benjamin Moukandjo, practically spent his whole game defending to spare Cameroon further blushes against Libya? Did the coach realise that Nyom was not up to scratch and less than the much maligned Angbwa Ossomeyong?

4. Tactics and animation: Lavagne has opted to play 4-3-3. It is his choice. However, he seemed not to know how to make the formation work for his team to move the ball from defence to attack. He started with a triangle in the middle that had Song at the tip playing as a number 10. The Arsenal man barely touched the ball and when he did he was sloppy or unimaginative. By half-time the coach reverted to the style he had used before with Stephane Mbia sweeping infront of the back-four while Alexandre Song and Landry Nguemo played slightly ahead of him – with a mission to link up with the attackers. But the final ball was ever so poor.

As much as Vincent Aboubakar and Moukandjo huffed and puffed on the flanks, they hardly ever put in a cross. Mandjeck just won’t overlap from right-back and when Bedimo did so on the left, his final ball was not good enough, giving the Libyans (like the Congolese before) the opportunity to launch quick counter-attacks. If the Libyans had been a better side, the defeat would have been heavier for Cameroon.

5. Bad defending of set pieces: Both Libyan goals were scored from set-plays. Given the athleticism of the Cameroon team – that should not happen. In the corner that led to the Libya winner, it was Yannick Ndjeng who was left defending the big Libyan, Osman, who beat Kameni to the ball and scored. In what looked like a poor mastery of zonal marking, Zouay was completely free to head-in the curtain raiser.

Not only are the Lions bad at defending set pieces, they just do not have anyone to take good free-kicks and corners. Apart from Choupo’s effort that led to the equaliser, every other free-kick and corner was squandered by the team – Landry Ngeumo being the main culprit.

6. A coach lacking personality and guts: Denis Lavagne talks a lot in the media about how he would confound those who doubt his abilities. It’s about time he starts showing the same purpose and guts in his team choices and the way he manages the team. He seems to be more concerned about not losing, than he is focused on winning. He looks lost on the touchline and (apart from the move to have the team play 4-2-3-1 after Nguemo’s injury in Yaounde towards the end of the DRC game) unable to make tactical switches.  He makes the same changes all the time (Salli coming in) regardless of the context.

It’s unclear if he is the boss or he has handed over his duties to Rigobert Song the team (logistics) manager. Lavagne also appears to be overawed by the big names and personalities in the squad he is supposed to be “re-building” i.e. unable to substitute Mbia, Song, etc even when they are having a bad game. If he can’t handle such players- what would happen if/when Samuel Eto’o returns?

These are just a few things which caused defeat from Cameroon’s perspective. But take nothing away from the Libyans. They not only showed heart and determination but also displayed tactical savvy as well as good technical quality in the periods when they outplayed Cameroon in midfield. Their victory is well-deserved.

Cameroon beat the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 1-0 in front many empty terraces to start-off their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on a good footing.They top their group with three points.  It could have been a different story, though, had Congo been a more clinical team.

Congo’s Leopards had the best scoring opportunities in the first-half at the 9th, 14th and 43rd minutes of play but they were denied by Cameroon’s goalkeeper Idris Carlos Kameni.

A goal from Choupo-Moting (in white) saves Cameroon under Dennis Lavagne and Martin Ndtoungou (both in green). Picture by Linus Pascal Fouda

Football being far from a perfect science, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions  scored  the only goal of the encounter through the individual brilliance of their Germany-based striker Choupo-Moting. He dazzled the Congolese defenders with some tricky moves and was ultimately floored for a penalty-kick. He showed great mental strength by scoring his spot-kick the second time of asking  after the referee ruled out his first (successful) attempt.

If anyone feels there was nothing to write home about, the Lions’ coach Denis Lavagne would point to the result. He has won five in five including two competitive ties against Guinea Bissau (1-0) and DRC (1-0). Yet, the under pressure Frenchman could hardly conceal his relief after the game.

“This (victory) is liberating for me and for the players…You know that many people expected us to lose. But no, we won and we will be there next week (to play against Libya),” he told Cameroon national television (CRTV) after the game.

A win is a good thing. It means 3 points are in the bag.  What  happens when Choupo-Moting can’t save the day?

Here are some tactical notes from the game:

1. Team & Formation: Coach Lavagne stuck to his preferred 4-3-3 formation that he has used since he took over the reigns of the team in November last year. He started with Georges Mandjeck at right-back; Henri Bedimo (Left-back); Dany Noukeu (centre-back) and Aurelien Chedjou (centre-back). Stephane Mbia was sweeping infront of the back-four while Alexandre Song and Landry Nguemo played slightly ahead of him – with a mission to link up with the attackers: Benjamin Moukandjo (left-forward); Choupo-Moting (Right-forward) and Kwekeu (centre-forward).

Edgar Sali came on for Kweuke after 60 minutes. He played on the left flank while Choupo Moting moved to centre-forward. Mbuta Andongcho replaced the injured Ngeumo near the end of the encounter leading to a tactical shift to 4-2-3-1. Song and Mbia were the two centre midfielders, Andongcho played on right flank, Sali on the left and Moukandjo played behind Choupo.

2. Attack: As the home team one would have expected Cameroon to take the game to the Congolese but that didn’t happen. The Lions’ build-up was slow and ponderous. Their passing was awful. All of which allowed the Congolese to regroup and hold their defensive shape. Lavagne must ask for greater urgency from his players.

Congo’s manager, Claude Leroy,  had flooded the midfield to deny Cameroon space and time to play the ball. This kept Ngeumo and Song in check. The ball hardly reached the attackers in the first-half. Choupo-Moting looked like a spectator. Kwekeu was isolated and always had two DRC defenders with him.

There was little variety in attacks which all came from the left flank where  Bedimo had a fruitful partnership with Moukandjo and later Sali. Bedimo even forced the Congolese keeper to a save minutes after Choupo-Moting’s goal. Things didn’t quite tick on the right flank where Mandjeck (normally a central midfielder or a centre-back) operated as fullback.

There was a slight improvement in the second-half. Song and Nguemo pushed further forward to dictate play and create chances. However their final balls were not the best and they are certainly not natural goal-scorers. Song, for instance, fumbled after Choupo-Moting put him through to goal via a cheeky lob over  the Congolese defence line.

3. Defence: The defenders had never played together as a unit (in the same positions) before. The Noukeu-Chedjou partnership looked comfortable dealing with longs-balls but was a bit brittle when the Congolese stretched the game wide and made quick passes on the ground.

Bedimo was generally good on the left. Mandjeck, however, had difficulty with his defensive duties on the right, requiring Noukeu to regularly come to his rescue. Lavagne also has to remind his centre-midfielders to provide cover to the fullbacks when the latter surge forward. The absence of such cover exposed Bedimo who was the most attacking of the fullbacks.

Stephane Mbia started slowly on his return to the position of holding midfielder for the Lions. He looked out of shape (he’s just back from injury), his first touch was heavy and his passing wayward.  He improved in the second-half and showed the energy and drive fans are more accustomed to. I would like to see Joel Matip or Chedjou tested in that role again, though.

4. Set-plays: Where is Geremi when you need him? Cameroon’s corner-kicks and free-kicks were a sham. If Ngeumo intends to become the set-piece specialist of the team, he needs to contact Geremi for lessons. His shots often landed near the stands. There was no coordinated movement for corner-kicks. It was poor – enough said.

5. Comment: Here are the words of CRTV pundit Ekinneh Ebai after the game: “There was no cohesion in the play. The play-style was insipid, it was slow, incoherent; a combination of 22 legs just kicking the ball and running wildly hoping something would happen…we got the win but it was a disappointing win.”

English pundits have been full of praise for Cameroon’s Alex Song for his commanding performance in midfield when Arsenal beat Manchester City 1-0 in a crunch English Premier League duel on Sunday.

Here is what David Pleat, a former Tottenham Hotspur manager, wrote in his column for The Guardian:

“A feature of Arsenal’s improvement has been the combination play of the three midfield men and here Alex Song, the most powerful of midfield bases, led the charge.”

Pleat added:

“When Song drives forward he invariably seeks his side’s goalscorer, Robin van Persie, curving lofted passes into his path. There was a time when he was considered purely a “Makelele type”, sitting in front of his centre-backs, cutting out danger. He began his career at Arsenal as a centre-back, where few staff members considered him first-team material. Arsène Wenger had faith and he is seeing the fruits of his outstanding judgment.”

Pleat concluded that:

“Song, one of the Premier League’s most underrated players, hit all the right notes while his team-mates have proved conclusively to City that money cannot buy you love. There is a feeling about Arsenal that translates into tenacious harmony.”

Victory takes Arsenal to third in the league, two points clear of Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s Tottenham Hotspur. If Arsenal hold on to that spot, they’d automatically qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

However, the contest between the London rivals that feature two of Cameroon’s best acts of the European season (Song and Assou-Ekotto), still has some way to go with six games left.

Read David Pleat’s full match analysis here.

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).

Cameroon’s national soccer team captain, Samuel Eto’o has been handed a fifteen match ban for inciting his teammates to revolt against how the team is managed. The players refused to travel to Algeria for a friendly game, in what the Anzhi striker described as a protest action along the lines of the “Arab Spring” revolutions that led to the fall of the Presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) said in a statement on Friday.

Samuel Eto'o at a press conference in Dakar

Samuel Eto'o incited his team mates to revolt says Fecafoot

Eto’o told a disciplinary hearing on Monday 12 December that incompetence, dishonesty and injustice were the hallmarks of football managers in Cameroon. He said the players were treated like “kids” and their refusal to play against Algeria was a sign of protest against this state of affairs.

The players who were in Marrakech, Morocco for a friendly tournament,  had insisted that they would not travel to Algeria except authorities pay up a customary appearance fee of FCFA 500,000 each they get at every national team camp, which had not been handed them on that occasion.

Fecafoot says its officials and those of the Ministry of Sport  held several meetings with the players, particularly the captain, his deputy Enoh Eyong Takang and other senior players: Idriss Kameni, Jean Makoun and Alexandre Song but the players refused to budge.

The Federation says Eto’o failed to explain why the players refused to travel although the Algerian Federation offered to pay $30,000 once the team arrived in Algeria while the Cameroon Ministry of Sport dispatched FCFA 15 million.

DEMANDS

From the statement issued by the disciplinary council, it appears that the players, under the leadership of their captain, had made other demands which they wanted to be met.

–       The players wanted an increment in the match bonuses they are handed during friedlies

–       That the team captain be  consulted the federation signs contracts for any friendly match

–        Have the players fly in first class

–       That the captain have a copy of the federation’s contracts with its main sponsors

–       That what ever payments are made by these sponsors are given to all of the team’s staff

–       That the payment of appearance be obligatory at all friendly matches

–       That the authorities pay  a symbolic fee to the players for their participataion in the friendly game against Algeria

–       That the rate of match bonuses be reviewed (increased) ahead of the 2013 Africa Cup and 2014 Wold Cup that start next year.

“The players may have been right in their demands but their style and manner of seeking redress was bad,” a Senior Official in the Federation told me. He also  felt Eto’o and vice-captain Enoh Eyong Takang – who has been banned for two games – had slighted authorities and had to have their wings clipped.

The statement following the disciplinary hearing says Eto’o described the vice-President of Fecafoot as “Papa menteur” (a lying old man).

SOLDIERS

Apparently, Eto’o and Eyong are being punished for protesting. These are players and their role (in the words of the official who spoke to me) is to obey orders like soldiers.

The fact that the Federation and the Ministry of Sport did not agree on who was to pay the said appearance fees (an aspect that transpires in the disciplinary council’s statement) has been conveniently brushed aside.

Authorities have argued that the money finally came on the eve of the match and that the Algerians were ready to pay.  But does that absolve them from accusations of incompetence?

If it was possible to get FCFA 15 million on the eve of the game after the players threatened to boycott the game in Algeria – why had the authorities not done so earlier? Didn’t the players make present their demands at the start of the camp in Morocco?

Why, even for courtesy sake, were the players not told before that they were going to play in Algeria for free? And was it normal – for Cameroon’s image – that Algerians be called upon to pay fees which should be the duty of Cameroonian authorities?

Refusing to play a game is certainly reprehensible. In addition, some of the players’ demands (mentioned above) seem a stretch too far. However, not all the persons responsible for the fiasco have been judged or punished.

Federation officials who spent their time warning and threatening the players, are the same people who wrote reports used against the players, and are the same people who appeared as witnesses to testify against the players. What does that say about fairness and justice?

Apparently, Eto’o picked the wrong crowd to start an “Arab Spring” uprising against.

He has 10 days to appeal the verdict of the disciplinary council. However, if his 15 match ban is upheld it would mean the end to his international career. It isn’t a secret that many would love to see him gone, though. He has often been criticised for an overbearing grip on the team, staff and officials. Such a ban would also send a warning to any potential dissidents in the ranks of the Indomitable Lions.

However, it leaves a rather wealthy and popular loose cannon, who knows enough to rock the federation’s stable. This may come to haunt those who took the decision in the long run.

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.