Sunday, 6 June 2010

Country Focus: Group E: Cameroon


Overview: Ever since the 1990 World Cup Super-Performance and the days of Roger Milla Cameroon as a country has lived and breathed football.  From significant successes, Cameroon have of late failed to live up to their potential, especially of superstar striker Samuel Eto’o, a product of the Real Madrid youth program, a star with Mallorca and Barcelona, and now winning his second back to back UEFA Champion’s League title with Inter Milan. All eyes on him this June as Cameroon are looking to again not live up to the expectation of qualifying out of Group E ahead of Denmark and Japan. Will the Indomitable Lions sleep, purr or roar this summer?

Surface Area: 475,442 sq. km.
Population: 15.75 million
Lyrics to the national anthem :
O Cameroun berceau de nos ancêtres,
Va debout et jaloux de ta liberté,
Comme un soleil ton drapeau fier doit être,
Un symbole ardent de foi et d'unité.

Chère Patrie, Terre chérie,
Tu es notre seul et vrai bonheur,
Notre joie, notre vie,
En toi l'amour et le grand honneur.

Que tous tes enfants du Nord au Sud,
De l'Est à l'Ouest soient tout amour,
Te servir que ce soit le seul but,
Pour remplir leur devoir toujours.

O Cameroon, Thou Cradle of our Fathers, Holy Shrine where in our midst they now repose,
Their tears and blood and sweat thy soil did water,
On thy hills and valleys once their tillage rose.
Dear Fatherland, thy worth no tongue can tell! How can we ever pay thy due? Thy welfare we will win in toil and love and peace, Will be to thy name ever true!

Chorus: Land of Promise, land of Glory! Thou, of life and joy, our only store! Thine be honour, thine devotion, And deep endearment, for evermore.
From Shari, from where the Mungo meanders From along the banks of lowly Boumba Stream, Muster thy sons in union close around thee, Mighty as the Buea Mountain be their team; Instil in them the love of gentle ways, Regret for errors of the past; Foster, for Mother Africa, a loyalty That true shall remain to the last. Chorus

Official Team Bus Slogan for South Africa:
Les lions indomptables sont de retour
(The Indomitable Lions are back)

National Food Culture:

Cameroon’s name comes from the Portuguese word for shrimp: Camarões.
Cameroon’s fishing industry pulls in enormous amounts of this crusty sea-critter and its often available in the succulent, spicy cuisine.
Not far from 15 million Cameroonians will be following their country’s games with some sort of startch-based saucy-spicy meal. 
Although this varies from region to region, yams, potatoes, rice, casava, millet or fufu (like couscous) are heaped and drowned in a peppery-spicy sauce and often accompanied by meat or fish (if these delicacies are available.) In fact one starch is rarely unacompanied by another form of starch.

Now if that is not the meal of champions I don’t know what is.
Perhaps less beneficial for the form is the accompanying bevarge... which is often some form of deeply fermented, barely distilled vegetation such as palm wine or millet beer.

Ndolé is the national dish.  Looks challenging but absolutelly delicious.  Highly spicy at its best, bitter green leaves with meat, shrimp and pork sweatmeats in a thick peanut sauce make up this dish, and its often accompanied by rice AND potatoes. Bon apetit!

Positive Nicknames:
Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions)
Negative Nicknames:
The sleepy shrimps (very unofficial)
Most Famous Clubs:
Canon Yaoundé, Cotonsport Garoua, Union Douala

Famous Players of the Past:

Roger Mila, Thomas Nkono, Marc-Vivien Foé, Pierre Womé, Jacques Songo'o, François Omam-Biyik, Patrick Mboma, Joseph-Antoine Bell, Eugène Ekéké

1990 World Cup Quarterfinalists
4 Time African Champions (2002, 2000, 1988, 1984)
Twice  African Nation’s Cup Second Place (2008, 1986)
1972 African Third Place (1992 Fourth)

Current Coach:

Paul Le Guen is as enigmatic and unpredictable as his team. He is credited as the manager that built the foundation which made Olympique Lyon one of the strongest teams in Europe.... after three tremeandous seasons in the restaurant city Le Guen moved to Rangers... flopped.... and then to struggling giants Paris Saint-Germain and nearly got them relegated. He took over Cameroon only in July 2009 and put the team back on track immediatelly allowing them to smoothly qualify for the World Cup as expected.
Quiet, serious, Le Guen definitelly looks the role, but Cameroon were knocked out in the Quarter Finals during January’s Nations Cup in Angola despite greater expectations.
Their highlight of the tournament was a 1-0 openning defeat to tiny neighbours Gabon before being unsaddled in the quarters by eventual (perpetual) African Champions Egypt.
Le-Guen’s management style is rather strange, he never stops experimenting. His forwards have extensive playmaking ability, which means that Eto’o rarely scores in Le Guen’s schematics, and he depends heavily on his wingers. 
Le Guen has the abilitiy, but like Cameroon you don’t really know what he will cook up until the ninety minutes are over. He has brought in a lot of French born players of Cameroon origin to the team, but most of them still have to prove themselves.
The choice of Le Guen to head up Cameroon was an extremely logical one, as his style closely resembles the fast pace powerfull football that Cameroon has played tradiionally on their better days, but this World Cup is already the second chance to put theory into practice for the Lyons and their Frenchie.

Squad of 23:
Probable strarting 11: (x cameroon games, x cameroon goals)

Cameroon’s undisputed keeper is Carlos Kameni. An accrobatic, excentric erratic flapper who often folds under pressure only to pull of games and saves which still force many pundits to rank him as African’s best current keeper. He was terrible in Angola, making at least two mistakes which cost Cameroon crucial conceded goals, and if his poor form continues maybe his permanence should be put in the question. His accrobatic saves and brave one-on-one goalkeeping are almost always exciting to watch though. He plays for Espanyol Barcelona and is 26 (58,0)

Crafty left wingback Benoît Assou-Ekotto looks more like an accountant than a footballer, but his ability to be in the right place at the right time and deliver superb centimer-precise crosses was very missed in January’s African Nation’s cup. Le Guen must really trust him as the 26 year old French-born Tottenham player takes back the place of Bedimo who played very well in Angola. A key player for Cameroon in South Africa.

Brontosaurus Rigobert Song, 33, of Trabzonspor (137,5) was stripped of his Cameroon captaincy when Le Guen took the role but just when it looked his impressive amount of international games had ended he started scoring goals from defense. This former Liverpool and Galatasaray player has the gift of pulling rabbit goals out of 90th minute hats, and always in different ways. He is clever at scoring goals from headers or making long lateral passes to the forwards for brilliant assists. His will be shoring up the center of defense, but due to his marked loss of speed he rarely makes it through a game without a yellow card these days. He is the cousing of National Team mate Alex Song of Arsenal.

Triceratops Geremi Njitap, 31, Ankaragücü (114,13), was once, no three times a great with Real Madrid and Chelsea before contracting Newcastle United syndrome and becoming a slow sometimes-brilliant-other-times-anonymous oldie. His long distance shooting used to be superb, and he scored some impressive goals at Real Madrid, now he doesn’t have the power anymore but strangely he gets rather lucky. Perhaps this is the reason, plus his extreme experience, that he is still playing. His bad back pass to Kamenia cost Cameroon the Nation’s Cup. He is a powerfull, tall figure that marches down the right flank before creating danger for the opposition, the problem is that now he is often too slow to get back. He is Cameroon’s starting right wingback and plays along Song with the two of them totalling over 250 combined appearances for Cameroon.

Nicolas N'Koulou, 20, Monaco (17,0) is a rising supertalent. Already looking more comfortable than experienced Geremi and Rigobert Song in Cameroon’s defense, he is also versatile and can play in the midfield. His ball ability and sense of the game are forecasting a brillinat career for this young, gentle-looking player. His passing and abilities are a huge asset and he was one of the stars of Monaco’s relativelly good season.

A lot is expected of Stephane Mbia, 24, Olympique Marseille (32,3). This dynamic, fast, strong hardworking player really underpormed earlier this year but is capable of being something of a midfield turbo charger and should start in Cameroon’s defensive midfield slot alongside Alexander Song, 22, Arsenal (23,0). Alex Song plays one line in front of his older cousing Rigobert, and has become a really talented defensive midfielder. He is playing a midfield playmaker role for Cameroon and many passes are distributed forward through him. He is a huge talent, but can sometimes really fold under the pressure of big games, as with Arsenal.

Either midfield Jean II Makoun, 27, Olympique Lyon (49,3) or Eyong Enoh, 24, Ajax (14,1) fill the roaming central midfield slot in front of Song and M’bia. Makoun has had a phenomenal career in France, especially during his Lille days, never reaching the same goal scoring prowess with Lyon. He has an excellent distance shot and runs late into the opposition area often scoring important goals. Enoh can play nearly anywhere on the pitch, and some Ajax fans have taken to calling him the „Energizer Bunny” because of his work rate. This little forward puts in excellent games for Cameroon and could push Makoun out of the starting line up as the later has of late been under performing.

Achille Emana, 28, Real Betis (34,6) is a very underrated player. Even though he plays in the Spanish Second division, he could have moved to one of Europe’s big clubs last season. His runs through the middle of the pitch and long shots are phenomenal. His powerfull explosive playing style can really make Cameroon a constant threat to even the best oppoenents if the rest of the team provides him with these opportunities. He is a key man for Cameroon when Eto’o is a lone forward as his ability to attack from midfield is extraordinary. Emana scores, he defends and he runs all game. Le Guen has been rather tough on him subbing him quite often.

Pierre Webó, 28, Mallorca (40, 15) and Mohammadou Idrissou, 30, Freiburg (29,6) will fill the dedicated forward role based on Le Guen’s tactics that day. Idrissou is an unsually clever and creative 190cm tall forward who creates frequent danger to the oppositon with quick, good decision making in the box, surprising technique for his size, but less-than-perfect goal scoring ability. Webo is a dynamic fast forward of the Thierry Henry mould, who runs down the wings and sets up his colleagues, or cuts inside before unleashing a powerfull long range shot at goal. He plays well on both the left and right sides of attack, but is less effective as a central striker.

Finally one of football’s most famous philanthropists and consecutive European Champions’ League winner, Samuel Eto’o, 29, of Inter Milan (96,43) is one of the most talented and quick players in the world. He has not been brlliant for the national team, perhaps because his style suits teams with South American players like Inter or Barcelona where he can play one-twos and move into scoring position. With Cameroon he is often left with doing the impossibe of playmaking and scoring on his own, and he rarely succeeds. If Eto’o can coordinate better with his teammates he could be one of the superstars of the World Cup, but so much is expected of him that the pressure might be too great even for this champ.

The remaining benchies: (x cameroon games, x cameroon goals)

Backup goalkeepers Souleymanou Hamidou, 36, Kayserispor (40,0) and Guy N'dy Assembé 24, Valenciennes (1,0) are not likely to get much playing time under the Kameni dynasty but Hamidou seems to be a more stable goalkeeper than his catlike counterpart. Assembe is an intersting young talent looking to continue in the long tradition of exceptional Cameroon goalkeepers.

Sébastien Bassong, 23, Tottenham (6,0) had a great season with Spurs but was overlooked by Le Guen for the Nation’s Cup. He could be in the starting lineup and is a complete defender who can score on corners. If he plays, he could be one of the revelations of this tournament.

Gaëtan Bong, 22, Valenciennes (1,0) a young talent from the French league who will be more than likely starting from the bench as cover.

Aurélien Chedjou, 24, Lille (10,0) has performed badly for Cameroon but Le Guen appears to be a big fan having picked him ahead of Bassong for Angola. He is a good defender at club level, and Le Guen could even surprise by reintroducing him into the starting lineup.

Landry N'Guémo, 24, Celtic (17,2) this versatile midfielder is something of a steamroller on the right wing. He has trouble crossing but otherwise his dynamism and clever runs with the ball open up opportunities for Cameroon. He can also shoot from distance.

Georges Mandjeck, 21, Kaiserslautern (7,0) is one of the rising stars of the team but is a certain bench starter this tournament.

Joel Matip, 18, Schalke 04 (3,0)a revelation in the Bundesliga with Schalke he rejected joining Cameroon for the Nations Cup in January but has decided now to play for the team. He is an excellent prospect already approaching Alex Song in abilities. This young defensive midfielder is really an asset for Cameroon, and due to his performances in the first three games he has an outside chance at starting. So far he is better defensivelly than offensivelly, but is showing potential going forward.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, 21, Nuernberg (1,0), tall and skilled, this 190 cm forward has the abiltiy to cause a lot of trouble of the bench, and he is not bad at scoring.

Vincent Aboubakar, 18, Cotonsport Garoua (1,0) a surprise selection for the team, this 186 cm tall young player is stil something of an enigma and is the only Cameroon-based player in the team. He is set to move to Valenciennes in the summer, but his abilties, and the reasons why Le Guen chose him are still something of a mystery.

Tactical Approach:
Cameroon are back to their classic style of 4-4-1-1. Eto’o plays a creative role and Idrissou is likely to be the dedicated striker towards who he whole team plays. A classical option 4-4-2 sees Webo and Eto’o playing together. This tactic depends on the wingbacks to run up from defense and Le Guen deploys two defensive midfielders to support the wingplay. Against Holland, Le Guen might adopt 4-5-1 replacing the remote striker with an extra defensvie midfielder in order to try and avoid getting hammered by the potent dutch offense.
The formation is rather conservative, but the players filling them are all strong and fast, which means that Cameroon usually scores on a 20 second burst of unexpected action. Normally the Lions bag many goals, and reach the penalty area quite often. They are not afraid to shoot from distance, and will look to overwhelm the Japanese and Danish teams physically and counter attack versus the Dutch.

Who is missing? Why?
Several good players have been left out the Cameroon team:

Left Wingback Henri Bedimo, 26, Lens (6,0) had a great African Cup as a surprise call up for Left Back but now has been left out.
Left/Right Wingback Timothée Atouba, a veritable 28 year old mountain of muscle playing with Ajax (42,0) has never won favour with Le Guen, perhaps for being sometimes undisciplined in picking up cards.
Somen Tchoyi, the explosive attacking midfield and a veritable star in the Austrian League was left behind after having a rather miserable underperforming African Cup. At 27 he plays for Red Bull Salzburg, but is not a 90 minute worker (14,2).
Good news for the delicate souls among you that André „the bone crusher” Bikey, 25, of Burnley (24,1) was left out, as he is a magnet for Red Cards. He was once deemed to dirty and physical player for the Russian League but has settled in as a creative-player swatter in the Premiership in the long tradition of Roy Keane, Vinnie Jones or Pallister. Entertaining for those of you who like bare knuckle boxing, sorry you’ll miss him. Oh I forgot, after he breaks the opposition player into pieces he often has the (still intact) ball.

Cameroon’s Strength
Power, long distance shooting and speed up front. It’s hard to take the ball away from players like Geremi, Idrissou or Emana. About half of Cameroon’s goals are scored from outside the box, and many from corners.
Cameroon’s Weakness
Cameroon are slow and shaky in defense these days. Kameni is flappy, Song is a slow shadow of himself and the rest are unintegrated and inexperienced. Le Guen was a great defender but he hasn’t yet managed to impose that knowledge on any of the teams he managed. Cameroon are therefore stuck in the lottery of score-one-more-than-you-concede school these days as their fresh 4-3 loss to Serbia shows.
Finally if you have read this far your reward (the prediction):
Based on Cameroon’s form in the last 6 months this will be another (now 4th) 1st round exit for the Lyons. They should take Japan with sheer physique and score from set pieces at least, but they will be ripped apart by clockwork-orange Holland. Denmark is a tought call, although the Dane’s organization could prove too much for Cameroon.
Second is possible, but the individual talents in the squad have to finally give back the hope invested in them by Cameroon fans... that means you Eto’o.

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