After a dreary 0-0 draw in the first leg, Cameroon and Tunisia served up an exciting contest in Yaounde. The Indomitable Lions kicked into gear against their lacklustre opponents and secured a 4-1 victory, more than enough to carry them through to the World Cup next summer.
Pierre Webo opened the scoring inside the first four minutes, calming the nervous home crowd and giving Cameroon a platform to build upon. They duly did, through an excellent Benjamin Moukandjo goal.
Tunisia came out fighting after the break, and managed to find the net, but their revival was quickly subdued, as Jean Makoun scored an emphatic brace.
Today's Cameroon triumph affords Samuel Eto’o a final opportunity to make an impact on the international stage.
Eto’o, like the Cote d’Ivoire’s Golden Generation who sealed qualification yesterday, is coming towards the end of his career. Despite scoring at the World Cup in 2002 and 2010, Eto’o has never managed to leave a lasting legacy on the international stage.
Qualification here gives Eto’o the chance to follow in the footsteps of his countrymen, the generation of 1990 who achieved so much before the watching world.
Eto’o’s fond interaction with Volker Finke, during the match, seemed to suggest that the two men had also put their differences to one side—the future looks bright for Cameroon.
He may have demonstrated some of his characteristic casual defending as Tunisia fought back after half time, but Benoit Assou-Ekotto remains a crucial figure for Cameroon. During his absence from the international side, it was clear that the Indomitable Lions struggled for width and pace. Lacking natural wingers or creative midfielders, Volker Finke’s side can often appear horribly one dimensional, and thus easy to defend against.
Thankfully, BAE has patched up his problems with the national selectors and has returned to play for the Indomitable Lions.
In the early stages of this contest, perhaps the most important considering the finely-balanced nature of the tie, Assou Ekotto was terrific. He demonstrated his willingness to make forays forward, as well as his ability to interact effectively with those alongside him and ahead of him.
He gave the side width down the left flank, giving Tunisia’s attackers a reason to be cautious, and their defenders something new to think about. This display was a fine example of how a full-back’s play in one portion of the pitch can have a massive impact elsewhere.
Over the last two days of qualification, three Sub-Saharan sides have advanced to the World Cup. Each will be heading to the international high table espousing a different approach and bringing varied qualities to the global stage.
Only Cameroon possess a plethora of imposing defensive midfielders, once ubiquitous with West African sides heading to the World Cup.
Nigeria have the nimble, astute Ogenyi Onazi, who prefers interceptions to crunching tackles, operating alongside the visionary, but staid John Obi Mikel. The Cote d’Ivoire boast the pit bull, 5’11 Cheik Tiote, alongside the all-round dynamism of Yaya Toure.
What all three sides lack, however, is a truly creative influence in the heart of midfield. Certainly, Toure can be a creative influence, but his main contribution is his power and poise as a box-to-box midfielder, rather than as an elite playmaker.
Eto’o even tried to compensate for the Indomitable Lions’ lack of midfield innovation by dropping deep, not just behind the forward, but behind the midfield, where he functioned as a deep-lying playmaker, just ahead of the defence.
All three qualified sides will bring different approaches to the table next summer, but don’t expect too much in the way of midfield creativity.
Tunisia’s elimination leaves Algeria as North Africa’s only realistic World Cup hope. Egypt remains technically in the running, but will need a miracle to overturn their 6-1 first leg deficit against Ghana.
Morocco, Libya and now Tunisia have all fallen by the wayside.
The North Africans’ performance over the two-legged tie against Cameroon suggest that they are in major need of an overhaul.
They were outplayed for large parts of the contest against the Indomitable Lions and too often looked devoid of ideas. Frequently they left far too much space between the lines, and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef’s ugly miss before half time seemed to sum up their day—he is meant to be one of the nation’s brightest prospects.
If Ruud Krol is to turn things around he must reintegrate some of the side’s most talented players. Oussama Darragi, Wahbi Khazri and Youssef Msakni were all missing (and badly missed) against Cameroon.
Benjamin Moukandjo has struggled to make his mark in the international arena. Over the last two years, he has played for three different French sides, in two different leagues, and the upheaval has transferred to the Cameroon set-up. He has struggled to impose himself as a striker and has generally failed to demonstrate the class that many observers have long been waiting for.
Against Tunisia, however, he was the star man and delivered an outstanding performance which suddenly transforms his international reputation.
Much like Andros Townsend’s impact against Montenegro, this was a lesson in how pace can menace and threaten in the international arena, where teams are perhaps not as compact and well-drilled as they are at club level.
The Tunisians were terrified of Moukandjo’s speed and dribbling, and even though he has not traditionally been an excellent finisher, he managed to weigh in with a goal of the highest quality.
Cameroon have been crying out for more dimensions to their offense. This was painfully evident in their 0-0 draw with Tunisia in the first leg. Moukandjo’s speed and direct running when positioned on the flank opened up the North Africans today and should fill Finke with confidence. With the Nancy striker, the Indomitable Lions now have a valuable attacking asset within their ranks.
Nigeria, the Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana will head to the World Cup next summer as Africa’s main threats in the eyes of the critics, however, this performance suggests that Cameroon ought not be overlooked.
Indeed, the Indomitable Lions showed today that they have the potential to be one of the tournament’s dark horses.
They possess considerable experience, as well as defensive might, and will not be easy to break down. Players such as Stephane Mbia—such a joke in the Premier League—look far more composed in the iconic tricolour of Cameroon. He, along with Aurelien Chedjou, Nicky N’Koulou, Jean Makoun and Alex Song form the basis of a terrific defensive unit.
They won’t enjoy the same serenity and composure that they did today, before a generous Yaounde crowd, but I doubt too many teams will be happy to find themselves alongside Eto’o and Co when the World Cup groups are drawn on December 6.