Cameroon not missing Eto’o and Song with ensemble cast impressing
Only Algeria qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament finals in Equatorial Guinea with more points than Cameroon, whose changing of the guard in attack has really paid off.
Despite a dismal showing at the World Cup, German gaffer Volker Finke has hung onto the Indomitable Lions’ mane by being one of four sides to go unbeaten en route to reaching AFCON. And what is so impressive is they have not missed record scorer Samuel Eto’o or midfield operator Alex Song.
Incidents in Brazil pretty much did for both of them and frozen out Spurs left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto too. Former Cameroon captain Eto’o led a controversial squad strike prior to the World Cup, with assurances needed over payment of bonuses to get the team on the plane.
Song’s elbow on Mario Mandzukic during a group game in Brazil, meanwhile, led to a ban, and Assou-Ekotto also got into an altercation with forward Benjamin Moukandjo. The latter has been retained, despite their spat, and failed to score in qualifying.
Assou-Ekotto, at 32, has Lyon’s Henri Bedimo and Olympiakos player Gaetan Bong ahead of him now, and their legs are younger. Elsewhere in defence, Marseille centre back Nicolas N’Koulou has really come into his own under eccentric Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, and been integral to getting the Lions roaring again.
With a single goal conceded in qualifying, that is as close to being literally Indomitable as you can get. Finke will hope to have Schalke’s Joel Matip back and fully fit after a broken foot too. This will ease the pressure on Valenciennes player Jerome Guihoata, who has done well at centre half, but is raw at international level.
Cameroon’s back four is completed by New York Red Bulls full back Ambroise Oyongo who, although left-footed, plays on the right. In front of them is continuity with Sevilla’s Stephane Mbia, who succeeding Eto’o as national captain, and former Fulham loanee Eyong Enoh providing a hugely effective screen.
Joining Moukandjo in the Lions’ frontline are impressive Lyon prospect Clinton N’Jie and top scorer in qualifying Vincent Aboubakar. Between them, that latter pair netted seven of Cameroon’s nine goals, including respective braces in a hugely convincing 4-1 home win over the Ivory Coast.
Moukandjo, meanwhile, is insistent that lessons have been learned from Brazil. “The World Cup is buried and completely in the past, the team showed that in qualification,” he said. “We picked valuable lessons in Brazil that will help push our national team positively in future tournaments.
“We have been pitched in a very tough group. We face Ivory Coast again after playing them in the qualifiers. Mali is a good team and Guinea are, too. It’s the second toughest group in the competition.
“But we have good qualities to come out of this group. When you play a tournament like this it comes with huge pressure and the important thing for us is to turn this pressure into a positive pressure.”
And the microscope may just been focused in a little more on Cameroon. Moukandjo is wise not to underestimate the difficulty of their pool.
“Cameroon is a big country with big ambition to go far in the tournament and our fans are expectant,” continued Moukandjo. “We cannot be arrogant, unrealistic or disrespectful, so first we target the quarter-final then take it step by step.
“We do have a very good team but no superstars. We play together as a team which is our biggest strength. If we continue with this spirit and do what the manager expects, we can do something big for our country.”
Punters can expect Moukandjo’s words to ring true in Equatorial Guinea, but the bar is high. The Indomitable Lions have reached the quarter-finals or better of the last seven editions of this tournament.
Do they have the credentials to win the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2002? Only time will tell if the sea-change Moukandjo claims has happened to Cameroon will result in silverware.