Cameroon vs. Croatia: 5 Things We Learned
Cameroon became the third side to be eliminated from the World Cup as they went down 4-0 to Croatia in Manaus on Wednesday. Admittedly, the Vatreni are a team laced with talent, but the nature of the Indomitable Lions’ decline and their dismal performance still came as a surprise—particularly considering the consequences.
To make matters worse, the national team’s volatile side reared its ugly head again. The Central Africans have history here, but even by their standards, Alex Song’s first-half red card—for striking Mario Mandzukic with an elbow—was an act of lunacy.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s late headbutt on team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo was a window into the team’s frustrations, their lack of unity and the underlying bad blood that exists among the fractured squad.
This feature looks back over their defeat to Croatia, and ahead to what the future holds for the Indomitable Lions.
Post-Eto'o Era Might Not Be Forthcoming
Samuel Eto’o was injured ahead of the match and didn’t feature. It was a tantalising glimpse into a post-Eto’o era and a terrific chance for those players who did play to prove that they could thrive without their divisive, controversial skipper.
At 33, Eto’o is unlikely to have too much left in the tank with the national side. However, it’s not immediately evident how the Indomitable Lions will rally round to replace their enigmatic captain.
The talented forward Vincent Aboubakar looks like the natural choice to lead the line, but despite a bright start against Croatia, he faded.
If this was a window into the future, then the Central Africans have every right to be very concerned.
The Value of Stable Full-Backs
In defence, Cameroon have a number of fantastic players who play key roles at major European clubs. Despite this, they just can’t seem to get it together as a unit.
It’s not for lack of midfield protection, with the likes of Alex Song, Eyong Enoh and Joel Matip ahead of them, they really shouldn’t have been exposed so badly over the last two games.
One of the reasons for this is a lack of consistency in selection at full-back.
Allan Nyom has proved himself to be a fine right-back with Granada in La Liga, yet despite playing in three of Cameroon’s five friendly matches since the beginning of 2014, he hasn’t played a minute in Brazil.
Instead, Volker Finke turned to the inexperienced Cedric Djeugoue for the Mexico game, then started Stephane Mbia against Croatia. Cameroon have started three different right-backs in their last four games.
Similarly, at left-back, Henri Bedimo started three of Cameroon’s friendlies since the start of the year, but, like Nyom, he hasn’t played a minute of this World Cup.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto has his well-documented strengths and his well-documented weaknesses. The former category came to the fore against Croatia, not least with his unforgivable tangle with Benjamin Moukandjo.
Bedimo might not offer the same attacking threat that Assou-Ekotto does, but it’s hard to envisage Cameroon would have been as poor in defence had he and Nyom played and completed the full 180 minutes so far.
Finke Must Take the Blame
Beyond some of his strange personnel decisions with regards to the starting line-up, Finke’s tactics and decision-making has been questionable over the first two games.
It’s certainly hard to say that the German tactician has improved his reputation since the beginning of the tournament.
Admittedly, his hands were tied following Song’s red card and his side’s implosion, but it seems as though Finke didn’t learn his lessons from the opening match against Mexico. Here, he was too slow to change things around in the second half and switch the initiative back to the Lions.
Despite making a tangible difference against Mexico and scoring in the 2-0 friendly victory over Macedonia, Pierre Webo was only given 20 minutes at the end of the game (following on from 11 against Mexico). The veteran has his weaknesses, but he at least gave presence and work rate to the forward line.
Had Finke used Webo better or switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation to take the game to Croatia, then Cameroon might be heading into their last game with a chance of progression.
The Promise of Youth
Bearing the promise of youth in mind and having witnessed the aimless toil of the side, now feels like the perfect time for Cameroon to begin looking to the future.
Their side isn’t particularly old (only six of the World Cup squad are 30 or over), but following the gross underachievement of this group of players and the green shoots on the horizon, it’s surely time to begin to integrate the next generation more proactively than has been done previously.
Of the players who played in the infamous Cup of Nations play-off defeat to Cape Verde, only five were culled before the World Cup.
Of the team who lost 2-0 to Togo in qualification for this summer’s tournament, only three (and not a particularly important three) were overlooked for Brazil.
Thirteen of the squad that underachieved so dramatically at the last World Cup were retained for this tournament.
This generation has underperformed, and their day has surely been and gone.
Time now to make a major effort to introduce Edgar Salli, Fabrice Olinga, Jean-Marie Dongou and Frank Bagnack with an eye on cultivating a team spirit and understanding for future competitions.
Where Are the Number 10s?
Cameroon, like Nigeria did in their opening game against Iran, struggled badly to control the ball and create cohesive attacking moves. Both sides resorted to hitting the ball long, and play regularly broke down without a clear chance being fashioned.
Too often, there is no one present to spot the pass or play the key ball.
Someone like Nosa Igiebor could do this job for Nigeria, but he was overlooked by Stephen Keshi.
For Cameroon, however, it’s harder to see a player who could come into the midfield and take this role. Alex Song, as he proves time after time, is not primed to be the key playmaker in the heart of the pitch.
Looking forward, who can step into the void?
Jean II Makoun might be drafted into the squad to take the reins against Brazil, but looking ahead, could the likes of Paul-Georges Ntep or Willie Overtoom (who hasn’t been called up in a year) come in and make a difference?