2010 FIFA World Cup Preview: Cameroon's Strengths and Weaknesses
The major question mark about this team, the dominant theme that will repeat itself however far Cameroon advance in South Africa, will be consistency.
Can Cameroon's talented and deep defensive unit put together the solid string of performances of which they should, by all rights, be capable? And will someone emerge as a consistent striking partner for Samuel Eto'o?
These are the questions that have frustrated successive Lions managers—all six of them—over the last five years, and these are the questions for which Cameroon supporters still have no definite answers with 10 days before the start of the tournament.
Playing with Fire: Finding a Striker to Complement Samuel Eto'o
Eto'o is a world-class player by anyone's reckoning; he is not the type of player that can be silenced for an entire match by any team. However, since the retirement of Patrick Mboma in 2004, Eto'o has lacked a dependable striking partner and has not adjusted well to being the go-to guy for Cameroon.
In general, scoring goals has not been a problem for the strong-willed and super talented striker, however, for some time now he has not been able to score the clutch goals in meaningful international fixtures that would secure his standing among the great Indomitable Lions of the last 30 years.
By playing shutdown defense on Eto'o and taking as an acceptable loss the odd breakthrough from the Internazionale and former Barcelona speed demon, opposing sides have been able to largely cancel out the once-ferocious Lions' attack.
The two lead candidates for the demanding task of playing second fiddle to the fiery Eto'o are veterans Mohammadou Idrissou and Pierre Webó.
The 30-year-old Idrissou plays for recently promoted Bundesliga side Freiburg, who avoided a speedy return to the Second German Division this spring in no small part due to the dependable contribution of their 6'3" target man. He is not a goal-scoring machine, but he is a big target who can certainly capitalize in front of the net.
The 28-year-old Webó, who has seen more national team experience than Idrissou and has compiled a respectable .33 strike rate in his 39 appearances, plies his trade in the Mediterranean idyll of Mallorca.
Both players are veterans and have had their fair share of opportunities alongside Eto'o. Idrissou, with experience in the physical Bundesliga, would seem to be the towering yin to Eto'o's speedy yang, but one wouldn't be far off calling him the "least worst" option, the lesser of two evils.
Cameroon seriously lack depth at striker. Their options are limited, and if neither Idrissou nor Webó steps up, Cameroon could struggle once again to score goals on the world's biggest stage.
More than any other factor, creative play from Real Betis' Achille Emana and a consistent threat from a second forward will be the keys to unleashing Eto'o.
Defensive Inconsistency: So Much Talent, But So Little to Show for It
While age and depth may be concerns on offense for Cameroon, their defensive ranks seemingly overflow with a potent brew of experience and potential.
All-time Indomitable Lions appearances leader Rigobert Song will probably rest his imposing frame on the bench unless the injury bug bites; his 33-year-old body is neither as fast nor as quick as it once was, though manager Paul Le Guen has seemed comfortable leaning on Song's age and experience over the past half year.
His veteran presence, like that of the still-productive Geremi Njitap, complements a host of younger defensive players who earn a living at some of the top clubs in Britain and France: defensive midfielders Jean Makoun, Alex Song, and Landry N'Guémo, as well as center-backs Sebastien Bassong, Stephane Mbia, and right full-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto.
Despite this impressive collection of talent, many of them already in their prime, and others just beginning to show their astronomical potential, Cameroon's defensive showings have been erratic over the last two or three years.
Seemingly just as likely to pitch a shutout as concede a penalty against African opponents over the last 12 months, the young Lions will need to show that they can be consistent in both the 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 if they are to avoid conceding early goals that could potentially sink them against counterattacking sides Japan and Denmark.
Espanyol's Idriss Carlos Kameni is probably the least talked-of goalkeeper whom everyone should be discussing around the water cooler. He is that good.
Paul Le Guen, though, will be hoping his defense will keep Kameni off the radar. The more we hear about Carlos Kameni following in the legendary footsteps of Thomas Nkono and Joseph-Antoine Bell, the worse this defensive unit will probably have performed.
So Much Potential: Will Cameroon Live Up to Expectations?
Despite the dark clouds this article has highlighted thus far, the silver linings are numerous and sterling.
Cameroon just have so much talent, it's hard to imagine them not pulling together an inspired run in Africa's first World Cup. They will need to rely on solid defense more than the "joga bonito"-esque Indomitable Lions of the past, but former Paris Saint-Germain manager Paul Le Guen knows how to put defense first while still putting an attractive product on the pitch.
Alex Song, at 22, had a monster year for Arsenal (and for Cameroon at the African Cup of Nations), showing an ability to go forward and support the attack that will help Emana, N'Guémo, and Makoun challenge for midfield supremacy against any conceivable opponent.
Assou-Ekotto, now that he has finally agreed to play for Cameroon, will join the experienced (if slightly over-the-hill) Geremi in forming a pair of skilled, fast full-backs who will provide dangerous attacking support.
This team is one star forward away from being a bona fide dark horse contender.
If Eto'o can escape the shackles with which opposing defenses will attempt to burden him, or if Idrissou or Webó can cause enough havoc on their own, this team could challenge the Netherlands for group supremacy.
Winning the group would help avoid the minefield of likely second- and quarterfinal-round encounters that second place would lay in their path. Here's hoping.
Allez le Lions!
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