The 48th minute of Cameroon’s 2022 World Cup opener is a perfect example of the thin line between victory and defeat. The Switzerland team (minus goalscorer Breel Embolo because he was born in Cameroon) celebrate in front of a frenzied crowd, relieved that the close-fought game is finally going their way.
Only a few yards away, Andre Onana and the Cameroon defense look anguished, knowing that their chance of winning its first World Cup match in 20 years would be even harder.
And indeed it was hard. The swarming, unstoppable Swiss press broke down Cameroon’s offense, and the energetic attack kept Andre Onana hard at work. Yet the Indomitable Lions should not blame the loss on Switzerland’s excellence.
This flat Cameroon side was nothing like the 1990 Cameroonian squad that left Diego Maradona and Gheorghe Hagi speechless at the World Cup, nor the 2002 AFCON team that went undefeated en route to its fourth Africa Cup of Nations title. Cameroon, dysfunctional and disjointed, looks worse than ever as today’s match with Switzerland showed.
Onana’s heroics not enough
For a good while, Cameroon’s game against Switzerland looked surprisingly even. Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo forced a save out of Yann Sommer, and Hellas Verona winger Martin Hongla nearly scored to give Cameroon a comfortable lead.
City center-back Manuel Akanji nearly broke the deadlock as the first half closed with a glancing header to the bottom right corner. But Akanji’s poor touch on the ball ensured the game stayed even going into halftime.
But finally, Switzerland broke through in the 48th minute when Xherdan Shaqiri played a perfect cross to Embolo, who easily tucked the chance away. And from then on, Cameroon looked lost.
Ruben Vargas nearly scored from the exact spot as Embolo, but Onana’s diving save kept Cameroon in the game. Granit Xhaka nearly doubled Switzerland’s lead in the 89th, but Onana’s outstretched fingertips denied yet another shot attempt.
Even though Cameroon parried shot after shot away on defense, their offense couldn’t retaliate after Embolo’s opener. Eric Choupo-Moting almost scored in the 57th, but his low-quality shot did not have a realistic chance of going in. And so the game ended with a sluggish Cameroon left wondering what went wrong.
Cameroon struggling with the press
A key reason why Cameroon couldn’t see a lot of time on the ball was because of Switzerland’s stiff press. The pressure extended all the way to the corner flags, up and down the touchline, and anywhere Switzerland had a realistic chance of scoring off a counter-attack.
Cameroon faced a well-oiled machine, an octopus with an infinite amount of legs when greeted by the Swiss attack. And for the most part, it canceled Cameroon’s greatest asset; their possession.
Cameroon’s possession never dipped below 50% in the Africa Cup of Nations, and it was a big reason why Cameroon got all the way to the semifinal matchup. It was also a big reason for Cameroon’s losses against South Korea, where they had just 37% possession, and Switzerland, where they saw a minority of the ball.
Cameroon might have an easier time against Serbia, a team that usually does need possession to win games. But if Cameroon cannot beat through Serbia with its back line, it could spell disaster.
Aboubakar snubbed for Choupo-Moting
Vincent Aboubakar is undoubtedly the most influential player Cameroon has seen in a decade or so. He has 92 caps and 33 goals, both the most among active players. He scored the winning penalty against Senegal in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals, and the winning goal in the finals against Egypt. He’s consistently shown up time and time again for his country.
Surprisingly, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting took his place as the starting center-forward against Switzerland. A traditional winger, Choupo-Moting acclimated easily into the center-forward position. He won three duels and had 28 touches.
However, Choupo-Moting didn’t have the killer finish Aboubakar provides. He had one shot blocked, and Yann Sommer easily saved his only on-target shot.
Song subbed Aboubakar for Choupo-Moting with 16 minutes left on the clock. The Swiss defense had a tough time defending the target forward, and Aboubakar had 12 touches in the final third, but his wingers couldn’t give him the headers Aboubakar excels with.
That’s why I think a front three of Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting, and Karl Toko Ekambi would fit Cameroon’s playstyle better. Not only would you include all three of the country’s best attackers in one lineup, but Toko Ekambi and Choupo-Moting are both great dribbles and have experience on the wings. Instead of having to choose between two and leaving one out, as Song did against Switzerland, Cameroon can have all three.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Sports Press Photo
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