Cameroon, like other African nations, had a challenging road just to get to the World Cup. Pitted against mighty foe Ivory Coast, Cameroon would surely have a tough time qualifying for the third time. It proved tough on the second matchday of the group stage. Ivory Coast knocked off Cameroon, 2-1.
Yet, Cameroon rallied back. The Indomitable Lions went unbeaten in four-straight games. Eventually, it set up a one-off game with the West African rivals to reach the final playoff phase.
Although Cameroon had the support of a frenzied Douala crowd, the game was even harder than advertised. The only thing preventing parity in the deadlocked game was Karl Toko Ekambi’s first-half goal. The match ended 1-0, sending Cameroon to the third round.
Cameroon’s grind through its qualifying group yielded a two-legged tie that proved to be more challenging. A game against Algeria and its talisman Riyad Mahrez.
An all-time classic against Algeria
Cameroon went down early to Islam Slimani’s 40th-minute goal at home and couldn’t make up the deficit. Cameroon entered its away leg trailing, 1-0.
Yet, Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting showed up. Pouncing on a deflected corner kick, the now-Bayern attacker calmly slotted the ball into the net. Neither Algeria nor Cameroon could score by the end of the final whistle, so the match went to extra time.
Of course, there were close shaves. Youcef Belaili stuttered a 2-on-1 right after Choupo-Mouting’s strike. Also, Martin Hongla scuffed an attempt to put Cameroon ahead, but both sides got new chances as extra time commenced. Algeria’s Ahmed Touba made full use of it, flicking a header into the Cameroonian net in the 118th minute.
So, as Collins Fai boomed an indirect free kick into the box six minutes later, most Cameroon fans lost hope. The crowd quieted into a pessimistic whisper.
Then, Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui played a through ball to Toko Ekambi off the accurate free kick. Toko Ekambi slammed it into the net in the 124th minute. Just as he secured Cameroon’s spot in this phase of qualifying, he launched Cameroon into the World Cup after missing out on 2018. Overall, it is the nation’s eighth trip tp the tournament.
While reaching the competition out of African is an achievement on its own, Cameroon does not have overly pleasant memories at the World Cup. In fact, the side’s list win at the World Cup was back in 2002. Yet, an explosive, new-look Cameroon team looks to replicate Cameroon’s historic 1990 World Cup run. That Cameroon team beat South American giants Argentina and Colombia en route to the quarterfinals.
Cameroon key players at the World Cup
Vincent Aboubakar is not the most famous out of Cameroon’s 26-man squad for the World Cup. That being said, he is the most important. The Al-Nassr striker carried Cameroon through the latest AFCON. In the tournament, he scored eight goals, good enough for the tournament’s golden boot.
With a Haaland-like build and sleek finishing skills, it would be an understatement to call him offensively adept.
After two fruitless years with Porto that followed his successful, league-winning season, Aboubakar transferred to Besiktas in 2020. There, he scored 15 goals in the season, tied-fifth in the Turkish Super Lig, before leaving Turkey for a lucrative Saudi Arabia stint with Al-Nassr. So far, his stay in Saudi Arabia has been mediocre at best and depressing at worst. To be fair, his international career is the better angle to look at for Aboubakar. An upcoming friendly tune-up before the World Cup against Panama is likely to be his 91st cap. In that game, he can usurp Patrick M’boma as the sole holder of third on Cameroon’s all-time scoring list.
Aboubakar’s success arguably only comes with the help of a more creative attacker who can drop back and create space for Aboubakar. At Porto, that was Yacine Brahimi or Rachid Ghezzal. The reason Aboubakar struggles at Al-Nassr is that he doesn’t have a creative maestro to help him mastermind his goals. Cameroon lacks that artistic forward to help Aboubakar knock some goals in, which will be the biggest question that Cameroon needs to resolve. Toko Ekambi or Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting must revive that goal-scoring form of years prior.
Despite what stats might say, Andre Onana is arguably Serie A’s best shot-stopper. In a 2-0 loss against German giants Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League, Onana saved 10 attempts. His heroic performance at Camp Nou yielded seven saves. Of course, critics point to the three goals he conceded as his drawbacks. Simply, he kept Inter in that game at times.
Inter won six times and lost once when he plays in Serie A. Even with a significantly worse Cameroonian team, Onana proves himself. He conceded only twice in a tight home-and-away series against Algeria. Prior to that, at AFCON, he put on an impeccable goalkeeping performance. The lone blemish was a 3-3 game against Burkina Faso.
Onana commands a Cameroonian defense in need of a veteran leader. Nicolas Nkoulou and Collins Fai are good leaders who can guide the back line. Neither play at the highest level of competitive soccer like Onana. The goalkeeper needs to step up to put Cameroon in the knockout round.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa
Anguissa is Cameroon’s best midfielder. He started 13 games for Napoli, scored twice, and assisted three times. And Anguissa has done it all as a defensive midfielder. Of course, Anguissa has highlights on offense, but his defense might be better. He has the tenth most blocks in Serie A (21), an accurate passing completion percentage (87.6), and 23 tackles.
Anguissa is as dependable for Cameroon as he is for Napoli. Despite missing a World Cup showdown with Algeria due to injury, Anguissa missed only eleven minutes in Cameroon’s run to third place in AFCON. Anguissa is as irreplaceable as Onana or Aboubakar because of his physical attributes and stamina, which will help him on both sides of the ball.
Playing out Group G
Without mincing words, Cameroon’s chances of escaping Group G are close to none.
The first match is a tight opener against Switzerland. Switzerland won its last three games, all against stark opposition. Portugal, Spain, and the Czech Republic. The Swiss can beat top teams as they did in Euros against France, and they consistently shut down Italy during World Cup qualifying to make it to Qatar.
Switzerland’s stifling defense will be Cameroon’s biggest threat, especially considering its reliance on an overpowering offense. Cameroon can break down Switzerland’s compact defense by taking notes from Portugal’s 4-0 demolition in the Nations League.
Quick counterattacks and flurries of movement forced Switzerland into action, letting Cristiano Ronaldo wreak havoc and cause chaos. If Aboubakar can move the Switzerland center-backs out of position, Cameroon has a fighting chance of getting a few points out of the Swiss.
Cameroon’s next opponent, Serbia, has not lost in five games. Their potent mixture of goalscoring talent in Alexsandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic, and Luka Jovic bodes well. Then, the providers to those outlets, Dusan Tadic, Sergej and Filip Kostic make for a constant threat across the front six.
The squad is stacked. It’s almost surprising why the world failed to notice Serbia’s strength until after it beat Portugal to secure an automatic World Cup berth. Onana must work overtime defending against what will probably be a flurry of Serbian shots.
Cameroon’s dreaded opponent is certainly the World Cup favorite. Perhaps the best front in the world of soccer. Neymar, Vinícius Junior, Richarlison, Antony, Raphinha, Gabriel Jesus and Rodrygo just as examples. Defensively, there is experience via Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Alisson, Eder Militao and more. Brazil last lost in the 2021 Copa America Final.
Recently, Brazil smashed five past South Korea before narrowly beating Japan. Other friendlies featured eight goals against fellow African World Cup teams Ghana and Tunisia.
Yes, Cameroon is a good team at the World Cup. Brazil is assuredly better. Manager Rigobert Song knows that, and a conservative defense will see the pitch when they face the Selecao.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Sebastian Frej
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