FIFA World Cup Team Prospectus: Cameroon
By Young Kim
For the next 32 days, I will countdown the remaining time leading up to the World Cup with a 32-day preview of each team that will be participating. For those of you who want to know each team inside and out, the 32-Day 2014 FIFA World Cup Prospectus is the World Cup preview. If you think my comments or opinions about a certain team is incorrect, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond to your questions on a mailbag post before the first day of the World Cup.
Nickname: Les Lions Indomptables
Previous World Cups: 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010
FIFA Ranking: 50
How Did They Get Here?
Although Cameroon finished in first place in their qualifying group with a 4-1-1 record, the team was far from dominant in their matches since all but one victory were won by a one goal margin. Their second leg 3-0 victory over Togo was most bizarre because Cameroon actually lost 2-0. However, FIFA discovered that Togo fielded an ineligible player, Alaixys Romao, and turned the victory over to Cameroon. After finishing at the top of their group, they played a two-game playoff against Tunisia and dominated with a 4-1 aggregate victory.
Opponents (Match Date): Mexico (6/14), Croatia (6/18), Brazil (6/23)
Projected Finish in Group A: Fourth
Why They’ll Finish In Fourth?
Head coach Volker Finke wants his team to play that high-pressure, counter-attacking style of football he implemented back when he managed SC Freiburg (1991-2007). Finke’s brand of soccer requires every player to throw away their egos, think as a team, and trust each other, which is really difficult considering how fragile relationships can be within the Cameroon national team (Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song were rumored to have divided the locker room during the 2010 World Cup). Although Song and Eto’o are said to be on good terms now, it’s tough to overlook their feud, which distracted the locker room during the 2010 World Cup.
Cameroon’s upcoming friendlies against Macedonia and Paraguay aren’t the best choices to prepare for the group stages and their final friendly against Germany will only expose their weaknesses rather than improve their strengths. Even if Cameroon successfully learns to play Finke’s high-pressure style, they lack the creativity to create clear-cut opportunities against any of their Group A opponents.
How Can They Escape Group A?
Several factors must work in Cameroon’s favor in order to break out of Group A. Mexico had less time than Cameroon to adjust to their head coach’s style, raising questions about their team chemistry. Cameroon must look to capitalize on Mexico’s disorganization and shallow midfield in this must-win match.
If Cameroon’s adjustment to Finke’s game plan goes smoothly, then they have a realistic shot at upsetting Croatia. Although Croatia boasts a great striker in Mario Mandzukic and a world-class midfielder in Luka Modric, their defense is as stable as a Jenga tower. Cameroon must capitalize on any miscue from the Croatian offense and jump immediately to a counter-attack. With an established veteran like Eto’o and a quick youngster like Lorient’s Vincent Aboubakar playing up top, Cameroon will be determined to give migraines to the Croatian backline. Win the first two matches, and Cameroon can use the Brazil match as a warm up before entering the round of 16.
Grading each position:
Keeper: Cameroon will rely on the hands of Charles Itandje to man the posts in this year’s World Cup. Itandje started in 32 matches for the Süper Lig club Konyaspor and conceded a whopping 44 goals. However, stats like these should not be taken too seriously since the keeper cannot be held accountable for all goals that went through the net. Itandje has performed exceptionally with the national team, conceding five goals* in the past seven matches.
Itandje proved to Cameroon that he was more deserving of a starting nod at keeper than his compatriot from Guimcamp, Guy N’dy Assembe, in the March friendly against Portugal. Itandje played in the first half and conceded a goal to some average bum named Cristiano Ronaldo, while Assembe was overwhelmed by the Portuguese in the second half and saw four balls in the net. Despite having only seven caps, Itandje seems more at ease in being the starting keeper for the national squad.
*Two of those goals Itandje surrendered do not count in the FIFA records book because they were conceded in the June 9, 2013 match against Togo where the opposing team was caught by FIFA for fielding an ineligible player.
Defense: The best Cameroonian backline would feature Allan Nyom of Grenada at right back, Queens Park Ranger’s Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left back, and Marseille’s Nicolas N’Koulou and Galatasaray’s Aurelian Chedjou at center back. N’Koulou and Chedjou are invaluable to the Cameroonian defense due to their athleticism, ability to read the pitch, and contribute to the offense from a deep position. Schalke 04’s Joel Matip is an important insurance piece in case N’Koulou or Chedjou gets injured.
Assou-Ekotto still thinks football is nothing more than a high paying job, but there’s no doubt that he does a great job at it. There are lingering concerns as to whether he could recapture that form he had back at Tottenham for the Cameroonian national team due to his age, but there is a good reason to believe he will immensely benefit the national side. Finke’s system gives Assou-Ekotto the freedom to do what he does best—aggressively mark the dribbler and move the ball forward.
The starting backline is underrated in their ability to contribute on the offensive end, but the lingering problem is their tendency to get expose when one player is out of position. Their willingness to move out of position in the counterattack (which Cameroon will rely on to generate offense) is their double-edged sword.
Midfield: Cameroon has a large pool of central and defensive midfielders. Actually, they only have central and defensive midfielders. From Rennes’ Jean Makoun to FC Barcelona’s Alex Song, Cameroon does not have a shortage of box-to-box midfielders. However, Cameroon’s plethora of central midfielders has yielded criticism about the team’s lack of creative in their offense. Finke’s aggressive tactics can mask that problem if the midfield can win possession on the defensive half of the pitch and unleash a counter-attack. This strategy is the Cameroonian midfielders’ only means to being effective on the pitch and would be effective against the likes of Mexico. Unfortunately, teams like Brazil and possibly Croatia are well-composed with their possession and will not be disrupted by Les Liones’ pressure.
Grade: C -
Attack: Cameroon’s forwards are physical nightmares for opposing defenders. Tall, quick, and freakishly athletic, Les Liones’ forwards are the worst matchup when it comes to defending. They can win the ball in the air, out-pace the defense to receive a through-pass, and keep the defense on their heels for 90 minutes. Unfortunately, nearly every forward not named Samuel Eto’o has a tendency to find the post or keeper instead of the net, inefficiently wasting the many chances they get.
Lorient’s Vincent Aboubakar is a 6’ 1” high-flyer and track star who finished the Ligue 1 season tied for second in goals scored (14 goals in 34 matches). He is in line to become the next Eto’o and will be playing along the left wing. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting of Mainz 05 is a 6’ 2” force of a striker who boasts great control of the ball and thrives off the wide position. Employed at the right wing, Choupo-Moting and Aboubakar will be taking pressure off of old man Eto’o*.
Despite the freakish raw talent surrounding Eto’o, Cameroon’s lack of creativity from the midfield and overreliance on counter-attacks will only mean limited chances for the Cameroonian trio up top. These strikers are more than capable of winning the ball in the box, but the question is can they efficiently convert the limited chances they have? Based on my experience using the team in FIFA 14 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2013, the answer is no.
*Trivia: Samuel Eto’o is the only player from the 1998 FIFA World Cup that will be playing in the 2014 edition of the tournament. After watching him play in the 1998 tournament at age 17 and play for Chelsea this season at age 33, has it ever occurred to anyone that Eto’o is a vampire?
Coaching: With Volker Finke at the helm, the goals can come for Cameroon from any position. Finke’s direct style requires every player to be involved with the defensive effort and pounce on every counter-attack opportunity. With the lack of creative talent in the midfield, Finke can only rely on frustrating the opposing team with high pressure and improvise the counter-attack. Lacking the personnel to utilize a traditional strategy, Finke only hopes that his direct aggressive style of football will thrive off of his players’ superb athleticism.
Although Finke will be judged on how his team performs on the pitch, Finke must be able to control his players and build team chemistry off the pitch first. It’s not easy when you have a major ego like Eto’o and an openly honest player like Assou-Ekotto in the same locker room. The only way Finke’s pseudo “total football” can work in the Cameroon national team is if every player can fully trust one another and expect each other to cover their positions when playing outside their spot. In the face of potential dysfunction, Finke’s intangibles as a manager will be tested in this tournament.
How can they win the World Cup?
Cameroon must tirelessly adhere to whatever strategy they have and hope to impose their play on the pitch before the other team does. In the face of Brazil and whichever world class team awaits in the knockout stage, Cameroon will have to score as quickly as possible before the opposing team has any chance to expose Cameroon’s poor positioning. If they score first, Cameroon should park the bus and leave Aboubakar, Eto’o, and Choupo-Moting for those long ball counter-attacks. Their first goal will be thrilling to watch. The events that follow will bore and disgust soccer purists like no other, but the underdog story that is unfolding will at least keep some casual fans (and ESPN 30 for 30 directors) excited.
Worst Case Scenario
Aboubakar and Choupo-Moting will realize that their childhood idol, Eto'o, is a total jerk after being forced to carry his luggage, massage his feet, be his foot stool, rickshaw him around Brazil, and ghostwrite his pending presidential campaign speeches. As a result, they will protest against his egomaniacal leadership by refusing to pass him the ball and ensure him a miserable World Cup campaign. Cameroon will play as if they have only 10 men on the field and bow out in a more disgraceful fashion than 2010. There's a good possibility that this could happen. Perhaps Cameroon can stop celebrating Eto'o like he's a god and find a new hero whose ego they can swell up for the next 15 years.
What’s There to like about Cameroon?
Cameroon isn’t on anyone’s list when it comes to touring Africa, lacking a world-renowned landmark or cuisine. The country has few things to my knowledge that is worth boasting about except for their athletes. The people of Cameroon live vicariously through their football stars, knowing that the likes of Eto’o and Song are making their country a brand name across the world. The idea of opposing politicians high-fiving with each other and celebrating a Cameroon win demonstrates how much the country takes their football seriously. Even if Cameroon is predicted to bottom out of their group, I hope this team manages to make it to the knockout stage. Their fans deserve it.
Cameroon may have won my vote for the best shirts in the World Cup. Sticking with the usual green home and yellow away shirts, Puma added a twist to the typical colors by infusing silhouette patterns found on traditional Cameroonian clothing onto the shirts. The patterns include rows of lions with a star inside, zigzagging lines, and broken arrow-like lines around the shirt. Cameroon definitely wanted to bring their culture to the pitch.
Disagree with my opinions? Have any questions? Feel free to email me at email@example.com or tweet me @notveryold. I'll be compiling a mailbag post the day of the World Cup.