Tag Archive: martin ndtoungou


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.

Advertisements

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).

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

Denis Lavagne has been named interim head coach of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions. He is at the helm of a three-man team that includes Martin Ndtoungou Mpile as deputy head coach and Pierre Mbarga as goalkeeping trainer.

Their mission is to qualify Cameroon for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted by South Africa. In order words, they must succeed where the previous staff headed by the Spaniard Javier Clemente failed.

Clemente and his assistants Francois Omam Biyick and Jacques Songo’o were sacked on Tuesday for failing to qualify the Lions to the 2012  Africa Nations Cup  in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Is this 47-year-old Frenchman the right man for the job?  Was he appointed simply because he is a foreigner willing to stay in Cameroon as some pundits have claimed in the media? (Listen to him speak moments after his appointment).

Lavagne was an assistant coach at four clubs – Nimes, Bastia, Valence and Bezier – in France’s lower leagues. He then became head of the academy at Sedan football club in France and Qatar Sports club in Qatar. He landed at Cotonsport Garoua in Cameroon in 2007 after a brief assignment in China.

He led Cotonsport to a number of championship victories as manager and then became the technical director of the club’s academy. After a short break-up with the Cotonsport management he returned as a Manager, a position he held until his appointment to the Lion’s Den.

Cameroon’s football legend, Roger Milla, does not believe winning national championships with Cotonsport is enough to make Lavagne a good coach for the Lions. Some Cameroonians think the Frenchman is a light-weight with regards to the calibre of players Cameroon has (many of whom play for top clubs in Europe).

The Frenchman told national radio that he would prove his worth on the field. His supporters highlight his understanding of the mentality of Cameroonian players and the politics that goes on in the national team. Big names like Paul Le Guen, Arthur Jorge and Clemente did not have this knowledge which explains their faliure, it is argued.

Cameroon’s most successful expatriate coaches have generally been unknown prior to their arrival in the country, according to a Cameroon football official we spoke to this afternoon.

Claude Leroy, who led the Lions to victory in 1988 at the Africa Cup of Nations; Pierre Lechantre who did the same in 2000 and Valery Nepomniachi,who was in-charge when the Lions reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990; had little pedigree before they landed in Cameroon, he explained.

WHAT ABOUT NDTOUNGOU

Yet, several TV pundits and newspaper columnists believe that the job should have been handed to Martin Ndtoungou (Lavagne’s deputy) who  is more experienced in managing national teams.

Ndtoungou was Winfried Schaffer’s assistant in 2003 when the Lions reached the finals of the Confederations Cup in France. He is a three-time winner  (as assistant in 1999 and 2003 and as head coach in 2007) of the Gold Medal at the All Africa Games with the U-23 national squad. He won the Olympic Gold Medal in 2000 as Jean Paul Akono’s assistant and led the U-23 squad to the quarter-finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This year he was in-charge of the Junior Lions (U-20) team that finished second in the African Youth Championships and led them to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Columbia.

He knows almost all the players who are vying for a place in the national team because he has been their trainer at youth or senior level. Why Ndtoungou accepted to be an assistant  is a mystery to many.

The 53-year-old told national radio that he discussed with Lavagne, the Cameroon Football Federation and the Ministry of Sport and decided to put a hold on his personal ambitions (to be head coach) for the good of Cameroon football.

The football official we spoke to said this was Cameroon’s form of a Jurgen Klinsman and Joachim Loew tandem as Germany operated between 2004 and the end of the 2006 World Cup.

“Loew was clearly more experienced and tactically stronger but Klinsmann had that punch and determination to make a name that uplifted the Germans,” the official who did not want to be named  said.

“We hope that would happen for us and by the way it is an interim appointment which means the door isn’t closed,” the official added.

Whatever people’s personal views, Denis Lavagne is now in-charge. Hopefully, Cameroonian sports reporters and pundits would switch from debates over race and the nationality of the coach to discuss his tactics and concept of football.

Is he a defensive or attack minded coach? Does he prefer 4-4-2; 4-2-3-1;4-3-3; 3-3-1-3; 3-4-3 or 4-5-1?  Does he prefer his teams to play direct football or does he insist on construction from the back with short-passes in tight spaces?

Last year the media forgot about these things when Clemente was named only to become surprised and disgusted over the Spaniard’s ultra-defensive approach whereas that was the man’s identity – known to all specialists.

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?

Cameroon will play against Mexico in the round of 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Columbia after they defeated Uruguay 1-0 to finish as runners-up in Group B on Friday.

Their coach Martin Ndtoungou, by the same token maintains his little-known record of being part of the coaching staff of every Cameroon national team that has crossed the first round of an international (non-African) competition since 2000.

Cameroon Football Fans

He was Jean Paul Akono’s assistant when Cameroon won Olympic Gold in Sydney (2000) and Winfried Schaeffer’s number 2 when Cameroon reached the final of the FIFA confederations Cup and lost to a Thierry Henri golden goal in 2003.

He led the fine pride of U-23 Lions that reached the quarter-finals of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 (only to lose to Ronaldinho’s Brazil); and now he has taken this set of cubs to the knock-out stage of the World Cup.

Successful Tactical Switch

It wasn’t an easy ride. The coach had to make a few changes after the team drew (1-1 with New Zealand) and lost (0-1 to Portugal) in its opening two games.

He changed his tactics from a flat 4-4-2 to a diamond midfield (4-1-3-2) with just one holding midfielder Frank Kom and a playmaker (engache) Emmanuel Mbongo Ewangue operating behind two strikers: Frank Ohandza and Christ Mbondi.

The passing was haphazard and sloppy at the start of the game. However, the flexibility of Ndtoungou’s tactics – which permitted the team to shift into a 4-2-1-3 with an attacking threesome of Mbondi (wide left) Ohandza (centre) and Yazid Atouba (wide right) supported by Mbongo –  delivered the goods as Mbongo scored the lone goal of the game from a cross by Mbondi in the 28th minute of play.

Eyewitnesses say after the game the team exploded with joy.

“Players singing and dancing some even shouting at the top of their voices,” Simon Lyonga, CRTV’s envoy in Columbia told me. “It shows that they too badly needed the win and the second round ticket,” he added when we had a debrief shortly after the game.

But Lyonga, who represented Cameroon at youth level and has covered several international competitions as a reporter, was quick to warn against any complacency saying the team must focus on the challenges to come against Mexico and forget the euphoria of beating Uruguay.

And he’s right.

Could be better

There was victory over Uruguay but creativity remains a weakness in the team with too many hopeful balls from the goalkeeper to the attackers.

The fact that Ndtoungou Mpile has changed formations in every game and tested several players as playmaker shows he is worried.

Mbongo and Herve Mbega alternated as playmakers against Uruguay while Clarence Bitang often confused playmaking with irrelevant flicks and dribbles which ended with Cameroon  losing possession when he held the role against Portugal. (He came on as a substitute against Uruguay).

Will Ndtoungou continue with his diamond/4-2-1-3 formations which require a quality ‘engache’ or will he return to his favoured flat 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders?

Learn how to score

Then there is the small (but important) matter of scoring goals. The Junior Lions have made it to the round of 16 with only 2 goals scored (we can’t tally their own goal for New Zealand!).

But someone has to teach Frank Ohandza how to score a goal! He must stop missing like he did at the 25th, 35th, 66th, and 70th minutes when  gaffes by the Uruguay keeper and defence gifted him with scoring opportunities that he wasted.

Ndtoungou and his assistant, Engelbert Mbarga, must be cursing the European clubs that refused to allow sharp-shooters like Jacques Zoua Dogari (FC Basel, Switzerland) and Vincent Aboubakar (Rennes, France) from joining the squad.

The coaches can only imagine how Shalke midfielder Joel Matip’s clean interceptions and his eye for a forward pass and Monaco’s Edgar Sali’s technique and penetrative skills could have been useful to unlock defences. But they are both absent as well.

Ndtoungou has shown in this competition and in the past (All Africa Games, Olympics and African Youth Championships) that he knows how to blend the (little talented) players at his disposal to make winning teams. Let’s see if his science will work against Mexico.

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.

Cameroon finished top of their Africa Youth Championship group with seven points after scoring a late goal to draw 1-1 with Ghana on Sunday.

Midfielder Emmanuel Ewangue Mbongo headed home for the junior Indomitable Lions  after the Ghanaian goalkeeper completely flapped his outing to stop an Edgar Salli corner in the dying seconds of the game (92nd minute).

On Thursday Cameroon will play against Egypt (second in pool A), while the Flying Eagles of Nigeria who finished second in Cameroon’s pool B (with six points) will clash with the Mali’s young Eagles (who topped pool A). These four teams will represent Africa in July’s FIFA Youth Championships (U-20 World Cup) in Columbia.

What are the lessons Cameroon may have learned from the game against Ghana?

Lesson 1: Cameroon’s benchwarmers can stop Ghana…

The Ghanaians, who are the reigning Africa U-20 Champions, scored in the 21st minute of play but the draw means they finish with only 2 points, cannot make it to the semi-finals and will not defend their World Championship crown.

The fact that the Ghanaians were unable to beat what was essentially a second-string Cameroon team speaks volumes about Ghana’s  below average performance at this tournament.

Cameroon’s head coach, Martin Ndtoungou Mpile,  had made whole-sale changes in order to rest some of the key players to who had qualified the squad to the semi-finals (and by the same token the World Cup) by beating the Gambia and Nigeria on an identical 1-0 scoreline.

Eric Ngana replaced Efala Ngonguep as the goalkeeper while Yann Songo’o, Mbongo, Armand Ela Ken and Alain Bruno Bati started for the first time in the midfield. Christian Toko Edimo and Joel Tageu who had been bit-part players in the other games had an opportunity to prove their worth up-front. At the defence, Ghislain Mvom who had played against the Gambia and Nigeria as a centre-back started at a right-back while Vincent Bikala slotted in the centre of defence to partner Yaya Banana.

Lesson 2: But Cameroon’s benchwarmers are not great…

Honestly, the changes didn’t click. The team seemed out of its depth particularly in the first-half where the Ghanaians ran the show. Cameroon’s passing was really poor between and there was no coordination between the various parts. This was exemplified by repeated confusion between the centre-backs Yaya Banana and Bikala and their rather shaky goalkeeper.

Cameroon stepped-up their game once Ndtoungou Mpile decided to substitute Alain Bati bringing on Edgar Salli at the start of the second-half. Yet, the passing at midfield only improved when the coach brought in Nyantchou of Panthere Bangante and Jacques Haman of Cotonsport Garoua.

From the 70th minute Cameroon piled pressure on the Ghanaians who scarcely crossed their half of the field and resorted to fouls. It seemed the arrival of the regular starters and news of Nigeria’s curtain-raiser in their game against the Gambia had sparked them into action.

Seeing that Cameroon only clicked when Salli, Haman and Nyantchou came on, it is clear that most of the players who were tested on Sunday will return to their bench-warming positions if the Lions have to make any impact in the semi-finals next week (not to mention the World Cup in July).

Lesson 3: Cameroon still has to work on scoring goals

The junior Lions created more chances towards the end of the encounter but as in the previous games their finishing continued to be wasteful.  The coaches would have to work on precision and target shooting before the next games.

The centre-forward Tageu was a real let-down. His midfielders served him with several through-balls but he was unable to make contact or proper use, often looking tired and heavy. Haman troubled the Ghanaian defence when he came on but it wasn’t uncommon to see him blazing wide ever-so-often.

Fortunately, the coaches had tweaked the formation from 4-4-2 to a 4-1-2-3 to ensure that Cameroon pressed high-up the pitch and pushed the Ghanaians to commit several fouls and concede about half a dozen corner-kicks.

Cameroon scored from one of these corner-kicks. It is the second Cameroonian goal to come from a set-piece. The Lions have scored only three (3) goals so far!!! It may not be worrying (for now) because of the sturdy defence and midfield but something needs to be done (for the future) about scoring goals.