Cameroon’s defensive prowess
Posted: 14 January 2014 Time: 10:37
Cameroon were carried to the World Cup on the back of their defensive solidity. The team may lack a creative midfielder or convincing, consistent firepower, but they possess Africa’s most-accomplished defensive unit.
The Indomitable Lions conceded only three goals in six games in CAF World Cup Qualifying Group I (no team conceded fewer) and then remained resolute to shut-out Tunisia in Rades, in the Play-off, before triumphing 4-1 in Yaounde.
They will need every ounce of this defensive strength and resolve in Brazil in six months’ time.
Escaping from Group A is not an impossibility, but it will take a massive effort from the Central Africans.
Mexico, their opening opponents, endured a disastrous qualifying campaign, but in Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez, they can boast some fine offensive players. Croatia will look to Bayern Munich’s workhorse of a forward, Mario Mandzukic, while the likes of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Milan Badelj will forge a menacing midfield.
Cameroon’s final match, on June 23, is against Brazil in the national capital—good luck there then!
Read on to discover the key men whose summer will be spent fire-fighting for the Lions and attempting to keep Volker Finke’s men alive in the World Cup.
For a player in his early twenties, Nicolas N’Koulou is already an exceptionally accomplished defender. It is not unfair to say that he is one of Africa’s finest defenders, and it will be fascinating to see how his game develops over the years.
His quality has seen him linked to such European giants as Arsenal, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, but for now he remains in France, where he has built quite a reputation for himself. N’Koulou has already amassed over 60 league appearances for both Marseille and Monaco—two of Ligue 1’s biggest side.
A good World Cup could result in his profile skyrocketing. Don’t be surprised to see one of those major European sides increase their efforts to recruit him after Brazil.
You won’t find many centre-backs who are more of a ‘complete package’ than Aurelien Chedjou. At Lille, where he won the French title in 2011, he was an outstanding performer and is now a Champions League regular in Turkey, with Istanbul giants, Galatasaray.
Unlike some of the other central-defenders available to Volker Finke, Chedjou is adept at bringing the ball out of defence.
He is also a team player, and will be a vital asset to the Indomitable Lions this summer.
Carlos Kameni is now 29, at this point in time, he should really be Africa’s pre-eminent goalkeeper and a key man for Cameroon. The Malaga man’s failings have certainly contributed to his regular omissions from the national side, but the form of his successor, Charles Itandje, means that few are complaining too vocally.
France-born Itandje has had a fairly obscure career. He impressed at Lens and then moved to Liverpool in 2007. He was a permanent back-up for Pepe Reina and then left in a cloud after giggling during a Hillsborough memorial service.
He has largely faded into obscurity since being dismissed from Anfield, his career has taken him to Serbia, Greece and Turkey but it has been for Cameroon that he has starred.
His finest performance was against Tunisia in the 0-0 draw in Rades. He made a handful of terrific saves, giving Cameroon a platform upon which to achieve qualification.
Last season was a disaster for Stephane Mbia. The defender made a ‘dream move’ to QPR, then of the Premier League, and looked suited to the physical competition in the English top flight.
However, things didn’t quite go to plan.
It’s never easy to adapt to a new league as part of a struggling side, but Mbia was found, too often, to be petulant, temperamental and, occasionally, lazy. He had a tendency to go to ground easily and was found, on one occasion, to be putting his gloves on as QPR were conceding a goal.
Finally, he fell out with the club hierarchy…it was the final straw; Mbia sealed a loan move to Sevilla and escaped from Loftus Road as fast as he could.
To his credit, Mbia has reinvented himself in Andalusia. He is no longer a hapless centre-back, but rather, a dynamic box-to-box midfielder. If he can retain his defensive discipline, but also link the backline and the midfield, he could be a key man for Finke in Brazil.
It is testament to the quality of Cameroon’s defensive options that Joel Matip isn’t a guaranteed starter in the Indomitable Lions’ line-up. Of the national side’s last ten games, Matip has started just six.
How many other African defenders are Champions League regulars but are unable to command a cast-iron spot in their national team defence?
Matip, however, should play a big part in Cameroon’s attempt to escape from Group A next summer. He is young, and thus prone to errors of judgement, but his ‘raw materials’, his physique, his pace and his aerial threat, mark him out as a very promising young defender.
Could well be Africa’s finest in his position one day.
In truth, Bassong might not even make it to the World Cup, his form has deserted him at just the wrong time. A year ago the Norwich centre-back was one of the Premier League’s most consistent defenders. Having left Tottenham Hotspur to see first team football, he was thriving in East Anglia where the added responsibility was bringing the best out of him.
He is a defender who has—and who has long had—all the tools needed to be an outstanding player, yet too often there is a tendency to switch off or meander away from crucial areas.
Finke could do a lot worse though.
Follow Ed Dove on Twitter @EddyDove