Cameroom: Instant Redemption
The Cameroonian federation kept faith with Volker Finke following their dismal showing at the World Cup and are reaping the rewards.
The German manager hasn’t played it safe, and has completely renovated the side that disgraced the nation in Brazil. Here’s what I wrote about the side’s qualifying clash with the Cote d’Ivoire for Kick Off:
Of the XI that he picked that day, for a genuinely high-profile continental clash, four players hadn’t even made their international debuts before the qualifying programme began. A fifth, Georges Mandjeck, hadn’t been seen since September 2012. With inclusions, come exclusions, and Finke has wasted little time in ridding Cameroon of the perceived bad influences that compromised their World Cup campaign. Amazingly, 15 of the 23 players he took to Brazil haven’t started a match for the Indomitable Lions since. The German manager clearly identified the side’s great failing and has adopted extreme measures to resolve it.
Notably, Finke hasn’t hesitated to turn to youth to fill key areas in the squad.
Barcelona B goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa has stepped up to international football seamlessly and has looked incredibly unruffled, particularly considering he’s only 18-year-old. Another terrific find has been New York Red Bulls full-back Ambroise Oyonogo. The 23-year-old typically features as a left-back for his club, but has impressed on the right since making his debut against the Democratic Republic of Congo. He started all but one of the Indomitable Lions’ qualifying fixtures and few people in Cameroon ever talk about Allan Nyom anymore!
With Benoit Assou-Ekotto banished following his contribution to the side’s disgraceful showing in Brazil, Henri Bedimo has established himself as the team’s first-choice left-back. Oyongo’s versatility makes him another option on the left, meaning there is no need for Gaetan Bong.
In the centre, Nicolas N’Koulou is a key figure and a defender of genuine class. An intelligent reader of the game and possessing a fine touch, he is a perfect foil for his likely partner, Sevilla’s Stephane Mbia.
Youngster Jerome Guihoata is another centre-back to have emerged since the World Cup, although I am unconvinced of his credentials, particularly compared to traditional options such as Aurelien Chedjou, Dany Nounkeu and Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik. Barcelona’s Frank Bagnack will travel as another option in defence.
Guihoata, Bagnack or Cedric Djeugoue (of World Cup fame) will need to stand-in for the suspended (and currently injured) Mbia for the Lions’ opener.
Finke has typically been using a 4-4-2-cum-4-2-3-1 formation during qualification, and I expect something similar in Equatorial Guinea.
Before being dropped for the dead-rubber against the Ivorians, Eyong Enoh has started a consecutive 19 matches for the Lions and appears to be virtually unmovable, even though some quarters of the media remain unconvinced by his contribution.
He will likely be partnered by Kayseri Erciyesspor’s Mandjeck, although, having been injured in the Lions’ last qualifier, he may be short of match fitness.
Alex Song has been vivified since returning to the Premier League with West Ham United this season and surely merits a recall. However, Finke, who axed Song in response to the midfielder’s senseless red card against Croatia, hasn’t been tempted and the former Arsenal man will stay at home.
The midfielder would surely have added something in the heart of the park, and will Finke regret not calling upon his undisputed quality? It’s an issue I looked at in-depth in a recent feature with Bleacher Report.
Raoul Loe, of Osasuna, is another option, although Jean II Makoun has come to the end of the road.
The powerful Leonard Kweuke has emerged as an unlikely option to lead the line in recent months although it remains to be seen whether the manager would play both him and star striker Vincent Aboubakar (as he did in the last qualifier against the Elephants).
The other attacking roles in either of Finke’s first-choice formations will likely be filled by some combination of Clinton N’Jie, Benjamin Moukandjo and in-form Bundesliga man Eric Choupo-Moting.
These five players have never started a fixture together and my prediction, all things being well, would be for Moukandjo (right) and Choupo-Moting (left) to take the wide roles in support of N’Jie and Aboubakar.