What Cameroon Need to Do to Escape Group A After Mexico Defeat
Africa’s World Cup showing began with bitter disappointment as Cameroon were defeated 1-0 by Mexico in Natal.
The Central Africans were lucky to head into the break with the scores still tied at 0-0. El Tri bossed the first half and will have felt aggrieved that at least one of two tenuous offside decisions didn’t go their way.
As an isolated result, it isn’t disastrous, but in Group A, with Brazil and Croatia lying in wait, it all but spells the end for the Indomitable Lions.
Following the performance against Mexico, Bleacher Report’s African Expert Ed Dove examines what the Lions need to do to stay alive at the 2014 World Cup.
Hit the Flanks
One of two surprise inclusions in the starting line-up was Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who was chosen ahead of Henri Bedimo at left-back. While the latter is arguably the better defender, Assou-Ekotto offers composure and excellent delivery moving forward.
Against Moldova, in the Indomitable Lions’ final pre-tournament friendly, the Tottenham Hotspur man impressed with his innovative and forward-thinking delivery.
He was influential against Mexico, exhibiting some fine crossing and movement, but he largely failed to release Benjamin Moukandjo on the opposite flank.
This was mainly because Moukandjo was pinned back early on, trying to protect the inexperienced Cedric Djeugoue from the raids of Paul Aguilar and Andres Guardado.
In the coming fixtures, Moukandjo needs to try and be more adventurous, putting in the effort and the endeavour to get in behind his opposite number where, hopefully, Assou-Ekotto’s pinpoint, cross-field passing can find him.
No More Experimentation in Defence
The second pre-match selection surprise by Volker Finke was the inclusion of the aforementioned Djeugoue at right-back.
Allan Nyom and Stephane Mbia are options in the position, but after two starts in the last four, Djeugoue received the nod.
The Coton Sport defender struggled against the Mexican onslaught and was hauled off at half-time. It was, ironically, a situation familiar to his nemesis on the day, Paul Aguilar, who suffered an identical fate against South Africa four years ago.
To include Djeugoue from the start was a major gamble by Finke and it didn’t pay off. The defender struggled with the occasion and it was little surprise when he was removed.
In their upcoming games, there can be no more experimentation in defence. Cameroon have options in central midfield where Jean Makoun or Landry N’Guemo could come in and allow Mbia to move to right-back.
Similarly, the talented Nyom has played in three of the side’s last five before the tournament. He would offer a lot both defensively and offensively.
The experiment with Djeugoue, while admirable, needs not be revisited anytime soon.
Introduce Joel Matip
Joel Matip has performed excellently in the Bundesliga over the last season and has been one of the Indomitable Lions’ most consistent performers in the pre-tournament fixtures.
While I was not surprised to see Finke use the established Aurelien Chedjou and Nicolas Nkoulou in the heart of defence, I had expected Matip to at least see some game time.
He brings presence and composure in the back line or the base of the midfield, and his mobility would surely have helped protect the defence against the relentless Mexico offensive.
Matip, surely, has a role to play against Croatia and Brazil—he must not remain among the substitutes.
Improve Hold Up Play
Cameroon’s best spell was at the very end of the game. Naturally, the ominous consequences of a defeat were dawning upon the Lions, and Mexico bedded in, but the introduction of Pierre Webo played its part as well.
With the powerful Webo spearheading the side, ahead of a line of Benjamin Moukandjo, Eric Choupo-Moting and Samuel Eto’o, Volker Finke’s men looked much more menacing.
Alex Song was sacrificed, but the 4-2-3-1 formation worked well, with Eto’o receiving more of the ball and, with players ahead of him, was encouraged to be more inventive.
Perhaps these final 10 minutes were the template that Cameroon should employ for their coming games. Naturally, they will lose some muscle from the midfield, but they need to go for it now and Eto’o, who remains their key player, must be key to this transformation.
Turn to Aboubakar
Volker Finke was frustratingly and surprisingly slow to change things around in the second half. It was imperative that Cameroon took the initiative and while the introduction of Webo proved what a substitute can do, more was needed.
In Vincent Aboubakar, the Lions possess an excellent, deadly forward. The Cameroonian was the third-highest scorer in the recent Ligue 1 season, behind only Andre-Pierre Gignac and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He was ignored, however, even though his compatriots were in a desperate quest to break down Memo Ochoa and his defensive line.
Cameroon cannot afford to continue ignoring Aboubakar. He could replace Moukandjo and take a spot on the right flank, giving him licence to cut in and shoot at goal. Or he could spearhead a 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing Eto’o to take the role outlined in the previous slide.
At worst, he needs to be an impact substitute, afforded 30 minutes to devastate a tiring backline.