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Cameroon knew they were not going to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) even if they defeated the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). All they wanted was a win to end the qualifiers with pride; which they did by beating the DRC 3-2 in Kinshasa on Friday.

Very little noise was made before the game. Even Paul Biya who so often presents the team as an example for the country’s youth to emulate, didn’t include them in his campaign speeches in the run up to Sunday’s Presidential Election.

Anyway, that was when the Lions were truly Indomitable and won most of the times. In reality,  though, it is now that the Indomitable Lions are really epitomising Cameroon: a country with great potential, talented human resources (at home and abroad) but lacking leadership and infested by bad governance. (We’ll come to that further down this post).

Return to 4-3-3

Cameroon were missing a flurry of players including  Stephane Mbia, Aurelien Chedjou, Benoit Amgwa, Joel Matip  who are out injured. As a result coach Javier Clemente played with a defence line which had never played together .

Enoh Eyong who is normally a midfielder had to start at right-back, Sebastien Bassong partnered with Nicolas Nkoulou in central defence for the first time since the 1-1 draw with the DRC in October  last year in Garoua; and Gaetan Bong held his role at leftback as was the case in the past two games.

Clemente opted for a midfield trio in which Eric Djemba was the holding midfielder infront of the back four; while Landry Ngeumo and Alex Song worked the channels. The latter was so advanced in the first half that he had a hand in Eto’o’s equaliser (1-1) and hit the cross-bar after a beautiful give-and-go with Eto’o a few moments later.

But the team looked disjointed on several occasions and Djemba was a weak link as in his defensive role. He was heavy and got beaten for pace most times the  Congolese started a fast counter-attack.

This exposed the centre-backs and added pressure on Enoh who was playing for the very first time at right-back. Bong was just on an off day and many fans on internet forums questioned why the coach had not called Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

All the Cameroonian players seemed to have problems with the artificial turf used for the game but this alone could not explain the number of poor passes in the first half and the misses by the attackers.

Mystery-man Adongcho

Mbuta Andongcho scores for Cameroon but has no club?

Moukandjo Bile who was playing wide on the right was particularly wasteful with the opportunities he had. Eto’o and Eric Choupo-Moting often interchanged roles as central striker and wide left forward and on several ocassions they sliced the Congolese but made a bad final pass.

It was only after Clemente substituted Djemba (replaced by Mbuta Adongcho) and switched formation to a flexible 4-2-1-3  (4-2-3-1) in the second half that cam,eroon seemed to control the game. By then DRC were leading 2-1 and had even managed to miss a penalty. The game was as tight as the scoreline.

Cameroon finally equalised through Adongcho who poked in a ball headed down by Nkoulou. Adongcho was again involved in the winning goal holding the the ball long enough to see that Choupo-Moting (who had started the move) got into a scoring position before passing the ball.

Adongcho is quite a mystery. I don’t know where he actually plays his football. Cameroon media say he is clubless and is struggling to get a move to Rumania. However, he seems to score every time he is given his chance to play.

The win must have been a relief for the players but they would certainly have many regrets. With the array of talent in the squad, it’s a shame that they are not going to be at the AFCON.

Bad Governance

This is down to bad management and leadership from sports officials in Cameroon and some of the senior players in the squad.

Cameroon’s sports authorities decided to recruit as head-coach, a Spaniard who stays in Spain and only flies-in when there is a game at hand. He seemingly has a pre-planned list of players that he picks regardless of whether they are in forme or even playing football at all.

These same authorities failed to deal with the inter-personal clashes that are said to have ruined the teams World Cup. They made an unofficial ban on some players, particularly Alex Song, only to realise when Cameroon was already limping, that these players were vital.

Bickering between Eto’o and Song poisoned the dressing room and left the team appearing on soap opera columns rather than on sports pages.

But how could fans expect a team operating in a dysfunctional set-up fraught with bad-governance  to perform well.

Hey! This is Cameroon – a country where a dead man was appointed as a as the head of a Division and the ruling party could appoint a dead man into its central committee. Why should a coach not name players who have no clubs in the national team?

Cameroon players have a spirit that pushes them to want to survive. It is the same spirit that is in the hawkers on the streets of Yaounde, the benskineurs (motorbike taxi riders) in Douala, Limbe and Bamenda and the high school graduate selling telephone top-up cards in Buea.

But there comes a time when even the fighting spirit can’t get you anywhere when there is dis-organisation and the absence of visionary leadership.

It happened in the post-1990 World Cup era and Cameroon failed to qualify for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations. It has happened again and they are out of the 2012 edition. But, shall they  ever learn?

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Samuel Eto’o missed a late penalty that would have given Cameroon victory over Senegal and keep the Central African nation’s slim hope of qualifying to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations alive. The game ended 0-0 and the Indomitable Lions look certain to miss the tournament to be hosted by their neighbours Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But on a purely tactical perspective it was a promising display from Cameroon – their most attack-minded performance in a competitive match in a long while.

Cameroon’s head coach, Javier Clemente, kept his promise to send out a team focused on attacking its opponent from the start.  The team included Benjamin Moukandjo, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Samuel Eto’o who are all used as attackers in their clubs.

He organised them in a 4-2-3-1 formation (similar to the one used by Germany at the 2010 World Cup). Eto’o was the lone striker while the youngsters (named above) played as the “3” behind him often interchanging positions. The shape gave the team width and penetration as the front four took turns to become de facto striker, “wingers” (cutting inside) or drop as a supporting striker (linking midfield and attack) given that the trio (Moukandjo, Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting) are all capable of unpicking opposing defences with ease.

The result was constant pressure on the Senegalese team from the first to the last minute of play; in a way Cameroon last did only in the 2006 Cup of Nations under Arthur Jorge and the early days of Paul Le Guen’s reign.

There were over a dozen corner kicks for Cameroon; not less than a dozen free-kicks at the edge of the Senegalese 18-yard box; and 7 clear goal-scoring chances (several of them one-on-one with the goalkeeper).

Sadly, the finishing was poor. Many of the shots were hit straight at goalkeeper Coundoul (who was preferred to (Calamity) Khadim Ndiaye).

fans senegal

Is it all about victory now?

MOVEMENT

The Senegalese have lashed out at the referee, who was far from excellent and gave a rather soft penalty to Cameroon. But the referee cannot be blamed for their complete tameness. Amara Traore had opted for a 4-3-3 which had a front three of Mamadou Niang, Issiar Dia and Moussa Sow. His intention was to have an extra man in midfield as opposed to the away leg in Dakar.

Yet, they were over-run by the movement Cameroon’s midfield 5 (if one includes the threesome that was supporting the attack) particularly the Enoh Eyong Tarkang and Landry Nguemo duet. Enoh sat deep mainly protecting his centre-backs while Nguemo peppered the Senegalese with hardworking box-to-box play that supported the attacking scheme set-up by Clemente (Aurelien Chedjou who was surprisingly left on the bench as a result of this formation, came on as a second-half substitute for Nguemo and added that penetration that was lacking in Dakar, as well).

The Senegalese had only one shot on target and it was from an off-side position.

Cameroon’s keeper, Carlos Kameni, was practically not seen throughout the encounter while his defenders – Amgwa Ossomeyong (RB), Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Stephane Mbia (CB), Gaetan Bong (LB) – were rarely troubled. The full-backs (Amgwa and Bong) shuttled back and forth on the flanks to add with while Mbia had several opportunities to score with a header from Cameroon’s numerous kicks – but he hit the ball wide on many occasions.

The pressure, movement, passing, free-kicks and possession driven play from back-to-front came to nil because Cameroon were unable to score. A few fans got so bitter after the game that they attacked cars parked outside the stadium and clashed with security forces who tried to protect the players. It pains when a team doesn’t win and nobody wants failure. But there were positive lessons in that game which could serve as a great guide.

PROMISE

Beyond Eto’o and the penalty he missed – Saturday’s game was another preview of a promising new generation of Indomitable Lions. With the average age of the starting eleven being 22 (if you take away Kameni and Eto’o)  there is a foundation for the emergence of another great pride of Lions (including the likes of Joel Matp and Salli Edgar),  if they play under the guidance of a manager who is there to build and  is not under pressure to produce immediate results (which politicians want to use as distraction).

“A manager (coach) can only make a difference if he has a club that backs him, that is patient, that gives confidence to players and that is willing to commit to long-term. And in any case that doesn’t just want to win, but to win convincingly,” Arrigo Sacchi, the Italian master tactician, is quoted as saying in Jonathan Wilson’s book: Inverting the Pyramid.

The mistake that has been made in the past and which was repeated after the World Cup in 2010 was to go for the short-term (or victory now and at all cost) approach. Authorities and the media didn’t accept that the Indomitable Lions were (are) a team under construction (in transition).

They went into witch-hunting mode, comparing generations passed and present, and mis-managing (or over-reacting to) tensions between players in the squad. Many were oblivious to the fact that Le Guen had unearthed talented  but inexperienced players that had to mature and could not necessarily triumph at the World Cup or ride over the continent.

Upon the first hurdle (which was the 1-1 draw with Congo), the media and team administrators panicked and a chain of reactions has led to a collapse of what should have been a painstaking project.

An absence from the Africa Cup could turn to into an opportunity to build a solid and more conquering team. With less pressure to win a trophy, a good and passionate coach, discipline and better organisation, regular camps and sparring partners on every FIFA date available, the Lions would re-emerge as a force in 2012/13 in time for the World Cup qualifiers.

Wasn’t that the path that Senegal took after they were knocked-out of the race to the 2010 Africa Cup and World Cup tournaments?

Cameroon na bol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Eto’o’s position?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the missing link?

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

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

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

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

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

Who is running on the right flank?

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel Eto'o in green

Cameroon’s national football team captain and star player, Samuel Eto’o, says he has had to re-think if he must participate in the World Cup after former Indomitable Lions striker, Roger Milla ,said Eto’o had yet to prove his worth for his country and lacks discipline.

Roger Milla, who scored 4 goals in Cameroon’s run to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990, said in an interview on Thursday that Eto’o had given much to his clubs Barcelona and Inter Milan but had never achieved anything with Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions.

” What did he (Milla) achieve? ” Eto’o is quoted by the French news agency as saying in an interview on French TV channel Canal+Sport on Friday.  “Finally you wonder whether these are really my countrymen. Are these really my people? Is it worth it to go to the World Cup?”, Eto’o added in a series of rhetorical questions.

It is not the first time that Milla is harsh towards Eto’o in particular and the new generation of players in general before a crucial competition. Weeks before Cameroon’s decisive qualifying game against Morocco, Milla had accused Eto’o of being a nuisance in the national squad.

“He did not win the World Cup, they played quarter-finals and what a team it was! They had one the best teams with great players in each compartment.  The fact that they (Milla) enjoyed glory at the age 40 does not gives them right to talk (like that),” Eto’o said.

Many fans expressed fear that Milla’s comments could dent Cameroon’s preparation for the World Cup and Eto’o’s threats have proved that this might be the case in a context where the team’s stability and cohesion is uncertain.

The Inter Milan player had been given 8 days of holiday by the coach, Paul Le Guen, after a long season which saw him win a second treble – national league, national cup and European Champions League trophy – with Inter Milan.

CRISIS

The Indomitable Lions are supposed to play against Slovakia in a warm up match on Saturday (29 May) in Klagenfurt, Austria after which the coach plans to name the 23-man squad to travel to South Africa for the World Cup.

Confusion from Milla’s statements which another Cameroonian football legend, Joseph Antoine Bell, described as “inelegant” only add to a series of set-backs to the team’s preparations.

In fact, the team played a slack and scoreless friendly training match against Georgia on Tuesday and the coach is still unsure about the eligibility of two players, Maxim Choupo-Moting and Gaetan Bong, that he hopes to the take to the soccer tournament in June.

The players had represented Germany and France respectively at youth team level and need a FIFA waiver to compete for the homeland of the fathers. Media reports have suggested that Cameroon’s football federation (FECAFOOT) was late to start the administrative procedure to obtain the waiver.

Choupo Moting’s father (who is also a football agent) clearly explains (in French) in this audio clip how the federation officials fumbled with the procedure and reveals that the football’s world body will decide on the matter next week and expects the outcome to be favourable for Cameroon.

The FECAFOOT boss, Iya Mohamed, who promised that there would be a decision on the matter this Friday, would need to improve his association’s skills in negotiating complex issues. They have a test of their diplomatic skills  in the form of convincing Eto’o to down his boycott threats, get back to the fold and focus on success for Cameroon on African soil.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are once again the best African football team according to FIFA rankings published on Friday 16 October.

Indomitable Lions of 12 August in Austria

Indomitable Lions of 12 August in Austria

Cameroon moved 15 places up the ladder and now sit as the 14th best team in the world.

The Elephants of Ivory Coast are now 2nd in Africa and 19th in the World while the Pharoahs of Egypt are ranked 3rd in Africa and 28th in the world.

Cameroon’s run of 4 victories and 1 draw since August must have contributed to this return to the top of FIFA’s world rankings.

It should be noted that these rankings are often used to pick seeded teams during competitions.

But the focus for Cameroon at the moment will be winning their final group game against Morrocco and obtain a berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.