Tag Archive: omam biyick


The Indomitable Lions. Photo credit: Olivier N'Seke

The Indomitable Lions. Photo credit: Olivier N’Seke

It’s time for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to talk on the pitch. In a few hours they will be facing the El Tri of Mexico. What should fans expect from the current pack of Lions?

Tactics: 4-5-1 or 4-3-3
Head coach Volker Finke has mainly used a 4-3-3 formation since he took over. However, there have been games where the Lions played more as a 4-2-3-1 with a double-pivot in central midfield and, in at least one instance their shape was close to a 4-4-2 diamond.

I expect the Lions to show up as a tight unit in a 4-3-3 when attacking and 4-5-1 once they lose possession of the ball. The latter would be the default posture taken by the team which will be very defensive in outlook.

The central midfield trio will look to charge down on the Mexicans, with a lot of energy to disrupt their movement. When in 4-3-3 mode the forwards will bear down on Mexico’s central defensive trio.

When the ball is lost the wide forwards will drop into midfield to block the flanks and serve as the first line of defense. They will not hesitate to drop very deep if necessary and break with speed once the Mexican attack is contained.

Cameroon played a high defensive line in all of its pre-World Cup warm-up matches. The idea is to keep the opposing attackers closer to the midfield than in the Lions’ danger area. The disadvantage though, is that if the defenders are not tactically disciplined or one member loses concentration, the impact can be devastating. How they manage to switch-on  immediately the game starts in each half; and their  This, concentration at the end of the halves, are points to watch. These have been the team’s weaknesses in the recent past.

As much as Cameroon will depend on counter-attacks, Mexico must also be wary of the Lions’ passing game forged by coach Finke. It is an interesting blend reminiscent of the 1990 generation that reached the quarter-finals. The player profiles and tactics are similar and they may stun Mexico as they did Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

Back to 1990

In 1990, Cameroon often started in a 4-5-1 formation. Emmanuel Kunde sat in front of the back 4. He intercepted attacks but also had the vision to make forward passes. In the current team, that role has been handed to Alex Song, who not only wears the number six jersey like Kunde but also has the ability to play in central defence and in midfield. Should Song be unable to start, Joel Matip would step into the Kunde shoes.

Two other players supported gave the midfield steel and penetration in 1990: Emile Mbouh and Andre Kana Biyick. The former was the grafter – who would stop at nothing to get the ball, with an ability to play an energetic game for 90 -minutes. That role in the current squad is held by Eyong Enoh Takang.  He is the one player who has started and completed every game since Volker Finke took over in May 2013. His is an ungrateful task of fixing the errors of his teammates without looking like the hero. Cameroon’s success depends on him being on song.

The Kana Biyick role will surely be handed to Stephane Mbia. Kana Biyick could play almost anywhere. He was a good centre-back but hated to play in that position. He could play as a box-to-box midfielder in a double pivot but could also feature as a support striker when called upon to do so. Since he got into Cameroon’s senior squad, Stephane Mbia has played as right-back, centre-back, holding midfielder, relay midfielder and support striker.

Down the flanks in 1990, Cameroon had two of its greatest artistes: Louis Paul Mfede (on the left) and Cyrille Makanaky (on the right). Both could also play as traditional number 10s or support striker if given the opportunity.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will be the current team’s Mfede. A great dribbler who can pass well and score goals. He will keep opposing full-backs in their camp. Cameroon’s success against Mexico and Croatia will depend on his form.

Benjamin Moukandjo has dreadlocks like Makanaky and he also has the pace and tenacity of the 1990 hero. As observed against Germany, Moukandjo can defend and storm forward like a speed train. He also misses a lot of goals like Makanaky – who rarely scored for Cameroon.

Cameroon in 1990 started games with a single out and out forward: Omam Biyick. He scored only one goal in that competition but it was an unforgetable goal (against Argentina). Omam, like Samuel Eto’o today, knew how to create openings for other forwards. Many often judged him in relation to the goals he scored (like they do with Eto’o) but it was his creativity that was one of his biggest assets.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have been drawn against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the last round of African qualifiers to next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It is not the first time that these two teams face each other in a direct knock-out challenge for a World Cup ticket. It was already the case in 1989 when Cameroon defeated Tunisia to clinch one of the (then) two tickets to represent Africa at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

The video is a 56-seconds clip of highlights of the second-leg game played  in Tunisia which Cameroon won 1-0. The goal was scored at the 12th minute of play by Francois Omam Biyick – who went on to score Cameroon’s winning goal in the opening game of Italia 1990 against Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

The Indomitable Lions had defeated the Carthage Eagles 2-0 in the first-leg game in Yaoundé with goals from (the late) Louis Paul M’Fede and Emmanuel Kunde.

Can the present pride of Lions repeat such a performance?

The players who started for Cameroon in-front of 45,000 spectators at the El Menzah stadium in Tunis on 19 November 1989 in Tunis were:

Joseph Antoine Bell (GK); Bertin Ebwelle (LB), Stephen Tataw (RB), Emmanuel Kunde (CB), Jean-Claude Pagal (CB); Andre Kana Biyick (CM), Mbouh Mbouh Emile (CM), Louis Paul M’Fede (LW), Ernest Ebongue (RW); Eugene Ekeke (FW), Francois Omam Biyick (FW). 

The starting line-up for the Indomitable Lions on 8th October 1989 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé  were:  

Joseph Antoine Bell (GK); Bertin Ebwelle (LB), Stephen Tataw (RB), Emmanuel Kunde (CB), Jules Denis Onana (CB); Andre Kana Biyick (CM), Thomas Libih (CM), Louis Paul M’Fede (LW), Ernest Ebongue (RW); Bonaventure Djonkep (FW), Francois Omam Biyick (FW). 

British TV pundits praised Benoit Assou-Ekotto for his consistency at Tottenham Hotspur after the Cameroonian contributed to his club’s  2-0 defeat of Aston Villa on Monday.

Assou-Ekotto (with a new hairdo) didn’t look perturbed by news that the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) had summoned him to appear at a disciplinary hearing this week, for failing to join Cameroon’s national team at a camp in Morocco.

Has he ditched playing for Cameroon since February as a Douala-based TV station, Equinoxe TV, said on Monday? That story seems to be making the rounds in the  media.

But the facts of the story don’t match reality. If Assou-Ekotto ditched the Indomitable Lions since February (!!?), was it his clone that I saw playing at leftback  against Senegal on 26 March 2011?

Assou-Ekotto is second from left among players crouching as Cameroon players pose before playing Senegal in Dakar on 26 March 2011. Or was it his clone?

Who knows? The administrative hassles and unprofessional organisation surrounding the Lions could push the player into early retirement like Lauren Etame did in 2002. But it would seem (for now) that it was  Javier Clemente who sidelined the player for months. Here’s a timeline of events:

1. In February, Javier Clemente (then Cameroon head coach) does not pick Assou-Ekotto for a friendly against Macedonia. After some players fail to turn-up, the Spaniard hastily recalls the leftback. Assou-Ekotto does not respond to the call.

2. In March, Clemente does not select the leftback for the crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Senegal in Dakar.There is  criticism from the media, the fans, Fecafoot and Ministry of Sports officials. Reports say the coach feels undermined by the player’s refusal to come as a back-up in February. When it appears that Clemente’s preferred leftback Gaetan Bong is injured, the coach is seemingly pressured to recall Assou-Ekotto.

3. The player joins the Lions’ camp in Portugal and eventually plays against Senegal. The media in Senegal describe him as Ca meroon’s man of the match alongside midfielders Landry N’Geumo and Enoh Eyong.

4. In May Assou-Ekotto is picked by the national team trainer for the return-leg game against Senegal but he does not travel to Yaounde. N.B: The player was recovering from an injury sustained days before the game.

5. After the 0-0 draw that basically knocked Cameroon out of the race to qualify for the Africa Cup in 2012, Fecafoot summons Assou-Ekotto to a disciplinary hearing for not appearing for that game. The player does not physically appear for the hearing but reportedly forwards documents explaining he was injured.  The committee issues a warning.  The rule book says injured players must have their injuries confirmed/examined by the national team doctor.

6. In August, ahead of a supposed friendly against Salvador, Clemente does not name Assou-Ekotto in his squad. The match fails to hold, though.

7. In September, Clemente names the squad for the qualifier against Mauritius in Yaounde and a friendly (that did not hold) against Mexico in Paris but Assou-Ekotto is not selected. When pressed on local TV, Francois Omam-Biyick the then deputy head coach says Clemente is still angry about Assou-Ekotto’s failure to appear for the game against Senegal in June. Omam says, the head coach views such behaviour as  indiscipline.

8. In October,  Clemente selects the squad for the final Africa Cup qualifier against the Democratic Republic of Congo and a friendly against Equatorial Guinea but does not pick Assou-Ekotto.

9. With Clemente and his whole backroom staff sacked after the game against Equatorial Guinea, his successor Denis Lavagne names Assou-Ekotto in a team of 28 players for a series of friendlies in North Africa (versus Sudan, Morocco and Algeria).

10. Assou-Ekotto and several other players fail to make it to the camp in Marrakech in early November. The head coach Lavagne says Assou-Ekotto was injured.

“He (Assou-Ekotto) called that he was injured and that’s a shame because it is the third left-back who is injured,” Lavagne told Camfoot.com

Why then is Assou-Ekotto being dragged to the disciplinary council? Did the coach lie to the journalists? Is Assou-Ekotto charged for not showing up to have the team doctor to confirm his injury as Aurelien Chedjou and Nicolas Nkoulou did?

Why have Fecafoot not summoned Somen Tchoyi and Benjamin Moukandjo who were also reportedly injured but did not travel to Marrakesh?

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?

Javier Clemete, head coach of Cameroon at a press conference

Cameroon’s starting line-up for Saturday afternoon’s game against Mauritius has been released with Javier Clemente giving a first competitive start for the U.S.-based winger Mbuta Adongcho.

Idris Carlos Kameni (GK); Benoit Angbwa (RB) – Nicolas Nkoulou (CB)-Aurelien Chedjou (CB) – Gaetan Bong (LB); Eric Djemba Djemba (CM) -Alexandre Song (CM); Henri Bedimo (WL) -Matthew Adongcho (WR)- Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (FW) –Samuel Eto’o (ST).

Cameroon needs to score goals. They have been unable to score  in a competitive fixture in almost a year. The last time they scored and/or won a game was in their 3-1 defeat of  Mauritius in September last year.

Cameroon media seem to think  coach Javier Clemente has decided on a 4-4-2 to end this goal scoring drought. I suspect the team will pan out as a  4-2-3-1 on the pitch as was the case against Senegal in Yaounde.

The 4-2-3-1 formation gives them reliability in defence (with 2 central midfielders + back 4) and flexibility in attack (with three attacking player behind the main striker).

TACTICS

To make the formation even more attacking – the coaches could recommend a greater contribution from the full-backs in support of the high wide midfielders to offer more width.  That was  not the case against Senegal. Song and Djemba may be nominally defensive midfielders but they have shown in their clubs that they have the intelligience and technique to surge forward. They would be required to be more involved in attack.

Playing as a 4-2-3-1 balances the team and the numbers in midfield allow the team to play for possession well, often with numbers up, especially against an opponent that is likely to play five men in midfield.

Mauritius are not travelling to Yaounde with a realistic hope of beating Cameroon. Mauritius would seek to keep things tight at the back and concede as few goals as possible. Last year, they played a very defensive 4-5-1 against Cameroon and would certainly reappear in that formation. Their plan being to sit deep, defend and if possible counter-attack.

Cameroon on the other hand need to score. Score to regain confidence in themselves; score to prove that there is some relative improvement in their out-put; score to get the fans behind them again; score as many goals as possible to keep their slim hope of qualification going.

TEAM SELECTION

A few things to note about Clemente’s choices.

1. Sebastien Bassong has fallen down the pecking order. In Stephane  Mbia’s absence, the coach has opted for Chedjou as Nkoulou’s centre-back partner. Chedjou has been playing more regularly for his professional club  than Bassong. Hopefully, the versatile Lille player (he can also play in midfield) would wipe out the  souvenir of an unsettled player who scored an own-goal at the Africa Cup of Nations when he was fielded as a central defender for Cameroon.

2. In midfield, Clemente decided to drop Landry N’Guemo and Enoh Eyong, preferring Alexandre Song and Eric Djemba who have not played with the team for a very long while. Hopefully, their experience gets them to instantly click with their teammates.

3. In attack, Clemente called or recalled several attackers but he seems to have preferred the people he knows. He thus plays Bedimo (a leftback at his club) in a more attacking role. He also chose to play Adongcho ahead of the crowd of Europe based forwards in the camp. Adongcho is a natural wide player that the staff discovered during a special selection camp. He scored in a friendly against Macedonia. The coaches have since kept him in the squad despite media reports that he might not be playing regular football in America.

Goodluck to Clemente and his team and see you after the game for a tactical analysis.

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 starting eleven against Senegal, Dakar 26 March 2011

Cameroon’s national football team did not play an international friendly this 29 March. That’s a shame. Playing against Gabon, for instance, would have been an opportunity to consolidate the good and tweak the bad aspects noticed in the game against Senegal on 26 March in Dakar. Here’s a tactical analysis of that Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

 

After a nervy start – during which they had to come to grips with Senegal’s 4-2-4 system – Cameroon basically seized control of the midfield where they outnumbered their host by playing a (form of) 4-1-3-2 formation. The ball retention by Cameroon’s midfield was very good for 35 of the first 45 minutes and for about 20 minutes in the second half.

 

 

Aurelien Chedjou calmed proceedings sitting in-front of the two central defenders, while Eyong Enoh and Landry Ngeumo harassed the two Senegalese midfielders (Nguiram Ndaw and Mohamed Ndiame) for the ball. Henri Bedimo who was wide on the left tucked in to provide a helping hand as did Samuel Eto’o who dropped from his attacking position to play on the right of midfield.

 

This prevented the Senegalese fire-power from setting into motion to the point that the host players were booed-off the pitch at half time.

 

Tactical discipline

 

The Senegalese coach, Amara Traore, several other tacticians and the Senegalese press saluted Cameroon’s tactical discipline and the quality of their passing after the encounter.

 

Unfortunately, as good as it was defensively, the system was bereft of vision  going forward. Nguemo was supposed to provide the thrust. Though he was among Cameroon’s best men, according to the Senegalese media, he often failed to deliver quality final balls.

 

Honestly, it wasn’t just a personal weakness. Who could he pass the ball to? Often Achille Webo was alone upfront and (without any bias against the Majorca man) he lacked the technique to dribble his way until Eto’o and Bedimo could join from their wide midfield roles.

 

When Eto’o or Bedimo did succeed to make  in-roads from the flanks,, Webo blew the chances – shooting wide or being out of position to receive the final pass.

 

A friendly match would have been an opportunity to fix that connection between attack and midfield just as it would have been a chance to create further cohesion in the, generally, solid defence that faced Senegal.

 

Eto'o, Webo and Enoh in the midst of the Senegalese defence before a corner, Dakar 26 March 2011

 

 

I have a preference for Sebastien Bassong in central defence but Clemente’s pair of Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia kept the Senegalese at bay until the 92nd minute.

 

Benoit Assou-Ekotto, described by Senegalese newspapers as the best Cameroonian Lion in the game, showed why he had to be in the squad. He displayed technique and a positional sense which helped him cover his central defence colleagues on several occasions.

 

Lopsided formation

 

Benoit Amgwa who played at right-back could not muster such plaudits. He has actually come under heavy criticism for the goal against Cameroon. But was he the only one at fault? I don’t think so.

 

The goal resulted from a defect in the formation put in place by Clemente and the substitutions he made in the second half.

 

In fact, the formation (4-1-3-1-1) when attacking and a 4-5-1 when Cameroon was defending) had a clear wide-left player in Bedimo who stuck to the flank whereas Enoh, who was supposedly his opposite number  on the right, rather stayed close to the central midfield area leaving Amgwa without cover when the attacker (Eto’/ Vincent Aboubakar) cut inside to join the main striker (Webo and later Eto’o).

 

This became really huge once Aboubakar came on. The former Cotonsport Garoua player is full of energy and technique but obviously needs to polish his tactical discipline. Whereas Eto’o usually retreated quickly to block the space behind him once a Cameroon offensive was punctured, Aboubakar often failed to do so.

 

Amara Traore realised the weakness and fielded Issiar Dia who was free to roam the left flank only having Amgwa to deal with. The tired right-back found it hard to contain the Dia’s energy. A hopeful kick by the Senegalese goalkeeper through the yawning gap left by Aboubakar, sparked a chain of poor play from  Enoh (who should have checked Dia) and Amgwa (who  retreated instead of taking on the Senegalese attacker). Dia’s beautiful cross met Demba Ba who beat Idriss Kameni.

 

 

Clemente talks tactics with Choupo-Moting at half-time of Cameroon v Senegal, Dakar, 26 March 2011

Clemente, it must be said, felt by half-time that Senegal could be beaten. He therefore fielded two attackers (Choupo-Moting and Aboubakar).

 

The alternatives

 

The Spaniard could have played Choupo-Moting (who came on for Bedimo) on the right; in which case he would have replaced Webo instead. As such, Eto’o would have played in the centre and Bedimo stayed on the left. Unlike Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting has the tactical wisdom to return to help is defenders as he showed on the left with Assou-Ekotto during this game. Moreover, he has played in this position for his German clubside Hamburg.

 

Somen Tchoyi who is naturally a number 8 but also has the experience of playing as a wide midfielder and a central striker could have come in for Enoh. This would have left Nguemo and Chedjou as destroyers and Tchoyi (or Choupo-Moting) supporting Eto’o from central midfield.

Again, a friendly on 29 March, would have offered a chance the technical staff to test these possibilities. That will sadly not be the case. There will hardly be another opportunity to have the team together again before the return-leg game against Senegal on June 4.

 

Lack of cohesion should never have existed if authorities (and the media) had not gone into witch-hunting mode after the World Cup, destroying the re-construction engineered by Paul Le Guen. But that is another story…

The Indomitable Lions were late. But their fans were ready to wait.  Hundreds of Cameroonians dancing and singing praises to their national football squad witnessed the arrival of the  team ahead of their clash with the Teranga Lions of Senegal at the Dakar Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium on Saturday.

The Senegalese press announced that the Lions would touch down at 6pm local time; but the Cameroon team arrived around 9pm.

Photographers and television crews battled with security men who claimed they were protecting the players. It ended in complete confusion as Cameroon’s captain and star Samuel Eto’o appeared. Some journalists forgot they were reporters and screamed the stars name, others attempted to touch him, the security men shoved, pushed and kicked.

The players barely squeezing themselves out of the arrival lounge to board the coach that was on stand-by. The security men struggled to keep the fans in check. These Cameroonians who were mainly dancers a few hours before, skipped over metal barriers as if they were steeple-chase runners.

“Give us victory, please give us victory,” one man cried   to striker Achille Webo who was comfortably sitted in the air conditioned bus. Whether Webo heard his pleas, I can’t tell but the Majorca player waved.

assou ekotto in the bus

Assou-Ekotto in the team bus in Dakar on 24 March 2011

The man then went to the other side of the bus where Tottenham Hotspur leftback  Assou-Ekotto was sitting with headphones on.

“Assouuuuu, la victoire, seulement la victoire Assou, s’il te plait,” he cried.

Then Eto’o, who had sneaked in, walked to the rear of the bus and waved to the folks who were struggling to catch a glimpse. A big roar followed cries of “Eto’oooooooooo”.

After about half an hour, the coach set-off for the team Hotel. Until that moment very few knew it was going to be the luxurious Radisson Blu situated on the Corniche West, with a picturesque view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Word spread among the fans – in any case. But by the time they could rush to there the Hotel gates were barred and the Lions jumped out. It was already past 10pm that night of 24 March 2011.

“The boys have to rest now, we’ll be available to talk to you at midday tomorrow (Friday),” Linus Pascal Fouda, the Team Press Officer told a pack of journalists who had managed to find their way through the heavy security at Radisson Blu.

Friday’s highlights include a press conference and a training session at the Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium at 6pm.

Lest I forget… The coach, Javier Clemente was also around. At least, I recognised the Spaniard. If one considers the way those fans were calling out for Francois Omam Biyick and Jacques Songo’o – one could be mistaken that they were the coaches

Cameroon has added three players – Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Joel Matip and George Elokobi – to its initial squad called to camp ahead of an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Senegal on 26 March and a friendly against Gabon three days later, a statement issued by the country’s football federation (FECAFOOT) said late on Friday.

These players are among Cameroon’smost in-form internationals and it was surprising to many that they were left out of the by the coaches. It remains to be seen if all of them respond positively to this late call-up.

However, their inclusion in the squad suggests that the coaching staff have been cowed by popular outrage and/or they (staff) have crumbled under the weight of intervention from officials and the political management of football in that west-central African country.

Javier Clemente, the Spain-born, head coach of Cameroon is known in international football circles as  being  direct to a fault, telling his players his mind and ready to pick a fight with anyone who thinks they are too big to toe the line. In keeping with that character trait he  felt he had to assert his authority by leaving out players he deemed had slighted him.

Sadly, it seems Clemente didn’t get the memo about the country he signed up to train. Football in Cameroon is more than a game for the ruling elites. It is a political tool.

The national team’s success is usually branded (in presidential speeches) as an achievement of the government in power and the team is used as an example of national unity, courage and determination as well as  a model of what can be achieved if the nation worked for a common purpose.

A political tool

When socio-political turbulence looms, the authorities play up  the greater national cause – focusing on a match, tournament, or qualification campaign – thus letting off the steam that could have exploded in the form of protests and riots against bad governance in a country where the economy has stagnated, and unemployment and inequality have risen, according to Crisis Group.

Curiously Clemente’s assistant, Francois Omam Biyick who is a former national captain and hero, may have failed to warn the Spaniard that in delicate political times as is the case now – with revolutions in the north of Africa and people tempted to replicate them in sub-Saharan Africa – sports authorities in Cameroon would not take chances on issues that could unleash discontent.

Deliberately omitting players that fans regard as vital to the squad for a must-win game is one of such issues.  The thinking in Yaounde is that there could be anger that might mutate into political protests should the team lose and/or fail to qualify for the Africa Cup as a result of such a decison.  Such a scenario happened in  the February 2008  riots that started-off as a taxi-drivers’ strike over fuel prices and veered into full scale unrest.

Political intervention in team selection is not new.

In 1990, with Cameroon struggling to build a convincing team for the World Cup in Italy  in a political context of growing discontent against the regime and calls for multi-party politics, a presidential decree got Roger Milla out of retirement and imposed him on the coaches and players of the national team.

His exploits – scoring four goals at the age of 38 – which contributed to Cameroon becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals gave the regime a two-month breather during which it tried to regroup and unleash a media campaign. The government stuffed the people with patriotic songs of unity exemplifying “the brave Lions” on State radio and TV (which were monopolies then).

Eventually, international and local pressure led the authorities to legalise multi-party politics and issue several laws on freedom of association and expression

Political manipulation doesn’t end at squad selection.

In 1993, a lacklustre Cameroon team struggled its way through the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.A. The final qualifying game was against Zimbabwe on 10 October with close to 100,000 people (according to State media), including president Paul Biya,  crammed in the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium whose official capacity is about 35,000.

Biya had been re-elected in controversial circumstances in the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992. The opposition had called for a “ghost-town” (civil disobedience –no work, not business activity, etc) on 11 October which was the anniversary of the proclamation of Biya’s victory by the Supreme Court. The operation was meant to be a protest at what the opposition considered as a “stolen electoral victory”.

Omam Biyick scored twice, and Maboang Kessack (if my memory hasn’t failed me) scored a third and Cameroon beat Zimbabwe 3-1. As the stadium and the country exploded in joyous frenzy, Biya declared 11 October a public holiday in honour of the great victory. Technically, there could be no ghost-town again since it was effectively a holiday.

More than a game

But Cameroon is not alone when it comes to using football for political gains.  From Kwame Nkrumah’s and Jerry Rawlings’ Ghana, through Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire to  Muammar Khadafi’s Libya, Abdoulaye Wade’s Senegal and Goodluck Johnathan’s Nigeria, football is a vital tool to those in power in Africa.

Authorities in Senegal have been using the recent run of good form by the Lions of the Teranga to shift people’s focus from a myriad of challenges rocking the country including excessive power outages, high cost of consumer goods and increased poverty,  local media have said.

The WalfAdjiri newspaper reported that Senegalese authorities are so wary of an explosion of discontent should their national team lose to Cameroon, that they promised to provide everything requested by the team coach who complained of poor lodging and logistics for the team during a recent friendly against Guinea.

This 19 March, however, civil society groups have called for a mass demonstration on the streets of Dakar to raise these issues and ask for government to tackle them. The government has authorized the protest but has warned that it would not accept any vandalism. Some youth groups are suggesting that these demonstrations would run until next Saturday’s game but that remains to be seen.

It is evident that when the national football teams of Cameroon and Senegal lock horns on the pitch of Dakar’s Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium next Saturday, the ruling elites in both countries won’t consider the encounter as a leisurely contest of 22 athletes seeking to qualify for an African Cup of Nations.