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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 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 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.

Bienvenu Ntsama, the  forward who currently plays for Turkish side Fernerbahce, is set to start for Cameroon this Sunday when they clash with hosts Morocco at the 2011 LG Cup, Cameroon media correspondents say.

The striker who scored 16 goals last season for Swiss club Young Boys Bernes is quick and sharp in-front of goal. He can play as a second striker dropping deep to support play but could also function in wide attacking roles.

Ntsama is expected to be part of a front-three that includes Vincent Aboubakar, a former Cotonsport forward (now playing for Valencienne in France) and Indomitable Lions captain Samuel Eto’o.

Ntsama was first called to camp in an international friendly against Poland in 2010. He was part of the squad that played against Mauritius in September last year but was not recalled until September this year. This may be a chance for him to stake a claim for a place in the squad.

He will be replacing Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting who picked up a knock on the ankle during Cameroon’s 3-1 defeat of Sudan at the start of the LG Cup on Friday. Reports say Choupo-Moting has been released by Cameroon’s coaching staff to enable him return to his German club, Mainz, for proper treatment and rest.

Choupo-Moting’s situation only adds to the injury woes that have hit Cameroon as they seek to re-build their team through a series of friendlies in North Africa. Strikers Leonard Kweuke, Benjamin Moukandjo and Somen Tchoyi; as well as defenders Nicolas Nkoulou, Aurelien Chedjou, Gaetan Bong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto had earlier pulled-out of the squad due to injury.

Cameroon players on reserve bench, Dakar 26 March 2011

From left to right: N'Dy Assembe, Vincent Aboubakar , Georges Mandjeck, Choupo-Moting, Abouna Ndzana and Tchoyi on the reserve bench in Dakar against Senegal. A 26 March 2011 photo by GEF.

This forced head coach Denis Lavagne to field two central midfielders, Joel Matip and Georges Mandjeck, as centrebacks in the game against Sudan. While Matip came out relatively unscathe, Mandjeck had a rough time and even conceded a penalty that led to the Sudanese goal.

The Rennes midfielder is now expected to start Sunday’s game on the bench while Dany Noukeu, a regular centre-back will partner Matip at the heart of Cameroon’s defence.

Allan Nyom, the Granada FC rightback, who was a make-shift left fullback on Friday will start on the bench as Henri Bedimo (a regular leftback) has shaken off an injury  is fit to start against the Atlas Lions.

Two fullbacks from Cameroon’s national league – Abouna Ndzana and Oyongo Bitolo – have now joined the camp and may be given a run at some point. They were summoned when the coaches realised that all of Cameroon’s main left fullbacks were injured.

Goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni, who got injured barely 20 minutes into the game against Sudan, has yet to recover which means Guy Roland N’Dy Assembe of French side Nancy will start against Morocco.

The coaches have shown confidence in the midfield trio of Enoh Eyong, Landry N’Geumo and Alexandre Song that started against Sudan. Hopefully, they would maintain a consistent level of passing and pressure on opponents to regain possession throughout the game. There was a dip in their performance during the second half of the encounter against Sudan.

Here’s the expected starting line-up in a 4-3-3 formation: Assembe; Angbwa (RB) – Matip (CB) – Noukeu (CB) – Bedimo (LB); N’Geumo (CM) – Enoh (CM) – Song (CM); Aboubakar (FW) – Eto’o (ST) – Ntsama (FW).

Goals from Enoh Eyong Tarkang, Benoit Angbwa and Samuel Eto’o helped Cameroon to a 3-1 defeat of Sudan at the start of the LG Cup in Morocco.

The Indomitable Lions were without six of their regular defenders and had to make do with a right fullback (Allan Nyom) playing on the left and two central midfielders (Joel Matip and Georges Mandjeck) playing as centre-backs.

A screen shot of Eto'o scoring Cameroon's 3rd goal against Sudan on 11 Nov 2011 in Marrakech

The weakness of this make-shift back four was evident in Mandjeck’s poor foul in the 18-yard box that led to Sudan’s goal from the penalty spot.

TACTICS

Cameroon’s head coach started with a 4-3-3 formation and the team played quick, brisk football in the opening stages of the game. The two fullbacks surged forward to support the attack and this was seen in Benoit Angbwa’s goal (Cameroon’s second) at the 35th minute of play.

The Anzhi defender was so high up the pitch that, he is the one who passed the ball to Eric Maxim  Choupo-Moting at the edge of the penalty area. The striker’s shot was  parried away by the Sudanese goalkeeper but Angbwa had followed the action and scored from the rebound.

However, in the latter stages of the first half and most of the second-half, Cameroon’s pressing was not consistent enough especially from midfield. The passing also dipped and became a bit sloppy.

The Sudanese were very quick and operated using rapid counter-attacks when Cameroon lost the ball in their half. Their attacking midfielders displayed cohesion and some purposeful interplay particularly in the second half.

PLAYERS

The Nancy goalkeeper Roland N’dy Assembe showed he is a great shot-stopper when he replaced Idris Kameni. However, he needs to improve his distribution which these days is essential for goalkeepers. He often used long balls which basically returned the ball to the Sudanese.

Joel Matip proved he was an extremely talented player, probably one of the best on the night. He passed well, distributed the ball masterfully, intercepted effectively and read the game properly. Those qualities would have been useful in Cameroon’s midfield, especially in the second half. Hopefully, when the normal centre-backs return after this series of friendlies the coaches would attempt to play Matip as a holding midfielder.

Once again Choupo-Moting was oozing with class and skill. The Mainz forward makes football look so easy with exquisite touch and passing. He has clearly established himself in Cameroon’s starting team. Two goals were scored from rebounds following shots at goal by Choupo-Moting.

He was replaced by Vincent Aboubakar (Valencienne) who also displayed promise and showed signs that he is maturing tactically. Six months ago he would have delayed with the pass to Eto’o that led to Cameroon’s third. Now, the former Cotonsport attacker has added vision and intelligence to his natural talent.

Sali Edgar, another ex-Cotonsport player, has always had vision which he displayed during the African Youth Championships in South Africa this year. He was at the start of the move that led to Eto’o’s goal but also provided much needed width in the second half when Cameroon’s game looked cluttered.

On the other hand, Jacques Zoua (yet another former Cotonsport player)  seemed to over-burdened by his first senior cap for Cameroon. Maybe he would have had a better debut had his thunderous header at the 31s minute not crashed on the cross-bar. It was the ping-pong following that effort which led to Enoh’s curtain-raiser. He could improve his output once he is more confident.

Georges Mandjeck also had problems which may be linked to his unusual role as a centre-back. He had drops in concentration and his positional sense has to improve. It would be nice to see him in his natural midfield position, though.

Allan Nyom  seems to be a very attack minded fullback making regular forward runs. Yet, one could notice he was uncomfortable playing as a left fullback. Hopefully, he would get a chance to prove his worth at right-back in the coming games.

Alex Song impressed going forward (as has been the case since his return); Samuel Eto’o was generally good, as an old hand should be. However, Jean Makoun was below standard and should not be recalled.

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

Benoit Assou-Ekotto (L) not picked while his club mate Sebastien Bassong (R) is in Cameroon squad

Cameroon’s head coach Javier Clemente has named Edgar Sali (Monaco) and Joel Matip (Shalke 04) in a 23-man squad, that does not include Tottenham’s  Assou-Ekotto, to face Mauritius in Yaounde next month.

The 18-year-old Sali was named the player of the tournament at the African Youth Championships this year but was unable to join his teammates for the U-20 World Cup in Columbia after he signed for French Ligue 2 side Monaco in July.

He is used as a wide midfielder for the Junior Lions although he has the potential to become a forward going central midfield dynamo.

Twenty-year-old Joel Matip, has not played for Cameroon since he appeared as a substitute in a friendly against Macedonia. This hasn’t gone down well with many Cameroon football fans who watch Matip in midfield or central defence for his German Club. He reached the semi-finals of the European Champions League with Shalke 04 this year.

WHO’S IN?

Cameroon’s Spanish-born manager  handed a first call-up to Leonie Kweuke, a striker who plays for Sparta Prague. Henri Bienvenu Tsama (Young Boys Berne), who appeared for the Lions in a friendly against Poland last year is given a second chance to prove his worth.

Midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba (Odense, Denmark) and France-based forward Alo’o Efoulou (AS Nancy)  have also been recalled. Djemba has not featured for Cameroon since 2009 while Efoulou is picked  for the first time since the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010.

Meanwhile Alexandre Song (Arsenal) is expected to make his full come-back for the Lions after a one-year hiatus.

ASSOU-EKOTTO

However, Clemente has no place in his squad for Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The Spurs left-back has been left out for disciplinary reasons, the assistant coach Francois Omam Biyick said on a local TV station.

“The problem with Assou-Ekotto started before the game against Senegal when we held a friendly against Macedonia. He was called to camp but he did not come and nobody knew where he was. The coach tried Gaetan Bong and was satisfied,” Omam is quoted as saying.

There was an uproar in March when Assou-Ekotto didn’t make the squad to face Senegal in Dakar and the staff was forced to later recall him. He was among Cameroon’s best performers in that game.But he did not turn-up for the return-leg although he had been named in the team.

He was summoned to a Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) disciplinary hearing to explain his absence but he didn’t appear in person.

Omam said if the final decision was his to make he would pick Assou-Ekotto because he is among Cameroon’s very best at the moment.

WHO’s OUT?

Charles Itandje dropped by Clemente ahead of Mauritius Game

The other high profile absentee is Achille Webo, the former Majorca forward who has moved to Turkey.

Clemente admires Webo but dropped him to the bench in Yaounde against Senegal. After promising displays by the youngsters fielded in that match maybe the Spaniard now understands why  Webo wasn’t such a big hit among the fans.

The former Liverpool keeper Charles Itandje  (cf photo) has also  been dropped and replaced by the young  Jules Goda.

Stephane Mbia (Marseille) and Vincent Aboubakar (Valencienne) are injured and out of contention for a place in the squad.

West Bromwich Albion’s Somen Tchoyi may feel slighted by the coaches though, given the fine form he has shown as a versatile forward for the team in the early days of the 2011/2012 English Premier League.

Here’s the complete list as published on the FECAFOOT website:

1. Idriss Carlos Kameni, RCD Espanyol – Spain

2. Guy Roland Ndy Assembe, AS Nancy – Lorraine – France

3. Jules Goda, Portimonense – Portugal

4. Benoit Angbwa, FK Anzhi Makhachkala – Russia

5. Nicolas Nkoulou, Olympique Marseille – France

6. Sebastien Bassong, Tottenham Hotspurs – England

7. Gaetan Bong, FC Valenciennes – France

8. Eyong Takang Enoh, AFC Ajax Amsterdam – Holland

9. Aurelien Chedjou, Lille OSC – France

10. Eric Djemba Djemba, OB Odense – Denmark

11. Henri Bedimo, Montpellier – France

12. Landry Nguemo, Girondins de Bordeaux – France

13. Alexandre Song, Arsenal – England

14. Andongcho Mathew Mbuta, Chrystal Palace -USA

15. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, FSV Mainz 05 – Germany

16. Benjamin Moukandjo, AS Nancy – Lorraine – France

17. Samuel Eto’o, FK Anzhi Makhachkala – Russia

18. Ngako Deutcha Duvalois, Sable FC de Batie – Cameroun

19. Joel Matip, Schalke 04 – Germany

20. Paul Alo’o Efoulou, AS Nancy – Lorraine – France

21. Bienvenu Ntsama, Young Boys – Switzerland

22. Edgar Salli, AS Monaco – France

23. Leonard Kweuke, AC Sparta Prague – Czech Republic

Cameroon’s Joel Matip scored on Sunday (21 August) for his club in the German Bundesliga but that hasn’t made headlines in a weekend where the name Cameroon has mainly been associated to Samuel Eto’o’s big money move to Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkal.

Eto’o will certainly keep making the headlines in the coming week, as he finally signs the contract that would see him earn 20 million euros and become the world’s best-paid footballer. But we prefer to focus on the Cameroon internationals who have been in action across Europe.

Eto'o (9), Bedimo (12), Chedjou (14) are mentioned in this week's review

German Bundesliga:

Joel Matip contributed to Shalke 04’s fantastic come-back from two goals down to beat Mainz 4-2 on Sunday. Matip started as one of the two central midfielders in Shalke’s 4-2-3-1 formation. He scored the third goal for Shalke at the 81st minute of play. Cameroon’s head coach Javier Clemente who has consistently refused to select Matip says the youngster is not mobile enough and is more for the future than the present.

Eric Maxim Choupo Moting came on as a second half substitute for Mainz but he was not able to repeat last week’s performance where he scored for his new club. However, Cameroon national team coaches should be happy to see him having regular game time.

Marcel Ndjeng started and played 83 minutes for Augusburg in their 2-0 defeat to Hoffenheim. Ndjeng has not been called up for the Lions since the 1-1 draw with the DRC in October 2010.

France: 

Nicolas Nkoulou played the full 90 minutes at the heart of Olympic Marseille’s defence in their goalless draw with AS St.Etienne. He was calm and assured and made some good long passes to his strike partners.

Henri Bedimo started at leftback for Montpellier when they beat Rennes 4-0 to go top of the French Ligue 1 standings. Georges Mandjeck started in central midfield for Rennes and played the whole game. Mandjeck last featured for the Lions as a second-half substitute against Senegal in Dakar last March.

Moukandjo Bile started his first game for Nancy this weekend after a move from Monaco at the start of the week. Nancy lost 1-2 to Sochaux and Moukandjo was substituted after an hour. He was replaced by another Cameroonian – Alo’o Efoulou who has not been selected for the Lions for about 18 months.

Lille beat Caen 2-1 with Aurelien Chedjou playing at right-back for the French Champions. Chedjou has been playing in central midfield for Cameroon since the World Cup in South Africa but normally plays as a central defender for Lille. For how long would he be deployed at right-back and how would that affect his game?

Landry Nguemo started as the sole holding midfielder in Bordeaux’s diamond formation as they drew 1-1 with Auxerre. Gaetan Bong played at left-back for Valencienne in their 1-2 defeat away to Paris St. Germain.

Switzerland: 

Henri Bienvenue Tsama came on at half-time but could not save his Young Boys Berne side from a 2-0 defeat in the hands of FC Thun. Chris Mbondi, U-20 international, came on as a 49th minute substitute for FC Sion as they beat Lausanne Sport 2-0.

England: 

Somen Tchoyi started again as a second striker for West Bromwich Albion against Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday. The Cameroonian worked very hard but his team were beaten 2-1 by their West London hosts. Tchoyi was substituted after 75 minutes.

George Elokobi came on as a very late substitute (90th minute) for Wolverhampton Wanderers as they beat Fulham 2-0.

Aston Villa defeated Blackburn Rovers 3-1 but Cameroon’s Jean Makoun watched from the bench throughout the game. Alex Song started his 3 match ban after stamping on Joey Barton last week and was thus absent from Arsenal’s 0-2 defeat to Liverpool.

This Monday Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong’s Tottenham Hotspur travel to Manchester to face the Premier League Champions. (We’ll update once the game is over).

[An audio review of Cameroonian performances in Europe is available of you click here]

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’s U-20  national football team reached the final of the African Youth Championship where they lost to Nigeria on Sunday. At a time when most of the country’s national teams are faltering, it is easy for fans to be carried away by euphoria.

Cameroon supporters welcome Lions in Dakar on 24 March 2011, GF

Yes, the team was generally good – tactically well organised, disciplined, athletic and rigorous under the masterful leadership of Martin Ndtoungou Mpile.

Their primary objective was to qualify for the U-20 World Cup, which they did. In the process, they reached the final of the Africa Youth Championship (a secondary objective) and did their utmost to try to win it.

NO CREATIVITY

It is a functional team with Cameroon’s  trademark  mental strength and  fighting spirit (evident in their come-back in the final against Nigeria). They certainly made Cameroon media and fans happy via their victories.

However, a youth team is not essentially about winning; it is often about development.

For years now, Cameroon has had problems producing creative and skilful attackers, offensive midfielders and wingers. Unfortunately, this team did not reveal players who could potentially supplement the deficiencies of the senior teams in such departments.

Did we see  a potential Samuel Eto’o , Patrick Mboma and (I dare-say) Roger Milla in that Junior national squad in South Africa? No. The team was not clinical in-front of goal. They relied on set-plays (free-kicks and corners) to score except in the final when they had their backs to the wall.

The most promising striker was Ohandza Zoa. He has a good work rate, partcipates in defensive duties but he must improve his first touch, his positioning, the timing of his runs and his finishing. To his credit he did score two goals whereas the likes of  Jacques Haman, Toko Edimo and Tageu were woeful in this aspect.

In the 80s and 90s,  Louis Paul Mfede, Djonkep Bonaventure, Ernest Ebongue dazzled defenders on the African continent (and even on the world stage) with their displays on the flanks. Since they retired we have struggled on the wings with the notable exception of the period when Salomon Olembe and/or Lauren Etame Mayer – used their speed and power to outpace opponents.

Did we see new wingers from the junior team that competed in South Africa? Not quite.

Cotonsport Garoua’s Edgar Salli, who was used on the left and right flanks,  was surely Cameroon’s most brilliant player at this tournament. He seemed to be the best crosser of the ball (from open and set play). Yet he looked laboured at times and gave the impression of being a relay midfielder who had been stuck on the wing because there was no one else capable of doing the job.

In many ways,  Salli reminded me of Geremi Njitap who could play on the flanks but was originally (and naturally) a N°8. There was little to write home about the others who played on the wings.

MORE DEFENSIVE TALENT

Whereas the likes of Theophile Abega, Gregoire Mbida (Arantes), Tokoto, and (if we stretch it) Cyrille Makanaky used to weave creative magic in the middle of the pack to link to attackers, such players have gradually disappeared from our national teams. The closest we’ve seen since include Simo Augustine (in the late 1990s) , Marcus Mokake (who never succeeded to encrust himself to the team), Daniel Ngom Kome and Achille Emana (who dribbles but finds it hard to be effective).

Did we see people capable of holding the ball, creating the chance and make the right passes to Samuel Eto’o, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Vincent Aboubakar or even Ohandza in the future? No.

As noted repeatedly on this blog, the Junior Lions passed the ball well from defence to midfield; they effectively harried their opponents and recuperated the ball but the transmission in the final third of the field was awful.

In effect,  the best players in this Junior Lions  squad were the central defenders (Yaya Banana and Mvom Meyo), and the central midfielders (Eric Nyantchou and Frank Kom)  which follows a common pattern in the past 10-15 years : physical, athletic, never-say-die central midfielders and central defenders.

They will add to the dozen or more people who are currently ahead of them: Stephane Mbia, Nicolas Nkoulou, Sébastien Bassong, André Bikey, Enoh Eyong, Aurelien Chedjou, Georges Mandjeck, Jean Makoun , Landry Ngeumo, Alex Song, Joel Matip…etc

THE GAME PLAN

Many would argue that this is the typical Cameroonian player: big, strong, and mentally tough! It has been so, since Claude Le Roy (and western European coaches) took over the mantle in the national team as from 1985. It became even more the case when most of the development players (through football academies and newly created clubs) became essentially targeted to an international market  that requires big, physical, combative lads.

But it wasn’t so in the period of the Yugoslav trainers of the 1970s who worked to rebuild the national team through the local clubs. The process which led to the first qualification to a World Cup in 1982 and a first Africa Cup win in 1984 with a set of players who combined skill, power, creativity and improvisation.

It was Issiar Dia’s dribbles that broke the Lions’ defence for Demba Ba to score for Senegal on 26 March 2011 in Dakar. Who unlocks compact defences for Cameroon and picks the right pass for Aboubakar, Webo, Eto’o  and Choupo-Moting?

It is the second consecutive U-20  final that Cameroon is losing  and on both occasions the opponent rose to our physical challenge and had the additional spark and genius – Andre Ayew (Abedi Pele’s son) for Ghana in 2009 and Kayode for Nigeria in 2011 – to inflict harm (goals). Where are our creative men?

Maybe the take home message from this tournament is that Cameroon (technical directorate) needs to re-think its football to include style,finesse and flair to the steel that is already available; failing which, at best  we shall continue to be runners-up and at worst fail to qualify to any tournaments.