Whilst Jean II Makoun was able to make wise runs into the box, and missed a golden opportunity to notch a crucial away goal, he is more accustomed to a holding role, and the triumvirate which accompanied him – Alex Song, Eyong Enoh and Joel Matip – are similarly defensively inclined rather than the hub of creativity.
Had it not been for the heroics of Charles Itandje, who assumed the role of Thomas Nkono for the day, the Indomitable Lions could have been conceivably thrashed. Certainly, with a defence that boasted Nyom, Aurelien Chedjou, Nicholas N’Koulou and Danny Nounkeu lining up from right to left, plus the aforementioned protection in front of them, it was galling that Tunisia managed to breach one of the best African backlines, on paper, so many times.
A more convincing criticism on Cameroon was their lack of width on the day. With Tunisian full backs Sameh Derbali and Yassine Mikari defensively suspect, Cameroon were unable to test the newly assembled Tunisian defence to the brim. Instead, bereft of orthodox wingers on the pitch, Derbali and Mikari were allowed the freedom to roam forward. After Itandje, the latter, with his day-travelcard sojourns down the left, was the second best player on the pitch and one of the players of the round. Width will probably be delivered by Mainz’s in-form Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, as well as Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Henri Bedimo, who have both been recalled. But Volker Finke has a conundrum on whether to start Samuel Eto’o as a striker (which, bizarrely, Eto’o personally doesn’t seem to favour) or to drop Pierre Achille Webo, who has a fantastic smile oozing with joie de vivre.
For their part, Tunisia did everything right but score in Rades. Rejuvenated by the return of smalltown boy Yassine Chikhaoui, they played with an intensity in the opening minutes which had been in exile for years. Even though they’re back from suspension, Ruud Krol has opted not to recall Tunisia’s best defender in the form of the rolypoly Aymen Abdennour, and he had originally not recalled Karim Haggui, Tunisia’s most experienced defender, until Alaeddine Yahia was injured after the squad was announced. With Tunisia constantly reshuffling their defence, it’s at the heart of their defence where the game may very well be decided, particularly if Eto’o picks himself as a striker in the starting XI.
With seven wins on the trot at home, Cameroon will go into this game with a sense of self-entitlement, and that self-entitlement will be echoed by their fans due to their relatively rich World Cup history. That said, a score draw will be enough for Tunisia to progress via away goals. As good as Itandje’s performance was, you get the sense that the Tunisians lacked the remorselessness in front of goal in that first leg and perhaps some of the efforts were glossed by the one-for-the-camera saves of Itandje.
Key Man: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
With Cameroon badly in need of width, you could say Choupo-Moting could be the Mainz man. Derbali is so positionally disrespectful that Tunisia fans have nicknamed him ‘Boulevard’, whilst Mikari is so attacking that he plays as a left-winger for Swiss side Luzern at club level. And this is where the in-form Choupo-Moting, who is a rapid winger and can score goals, could come in handy.
Cameroon fans shouldn’t hold their breath, however. The omnipotent figure in the shape Samuel Eto’o seems determined to play wherever his gut feeling takes him, showing no concern for tactical instructions of Volter Finke (insofar as moaning to the president, and claiming he dropped into midfield because he noticed the midfielders were not passing him the ball). In fairness to Eto’o, you could see why he does lurk on the left wing and shift centrally, as a disguised attacking midfielder, but you can’t help that his interpretation of Total Football is harming the team rather than harnessing it. Not only does it mean Cameroon lack the serial-killer touch, but it also leaves them imbalanced with opportunities created for the lovely Pierre Achille Webo few and far between.
Key Man: Moez Ben Cherifia
The 22-year-old is undoubtedly the best goalkeeper plying his trade in Africa or, for the acolytes of Itumeleng Khune and Kennedy Mweene, the most promising young goalkeeper in Africa. But simply assigning him ‘the most promising young goalkeeper in Africa’ tag insinuates nappy marks are still imprinted on his thighs and he hasn’t really made it. But that would be doing him a great disservice as, with four years of regular football under his belt and a host of medals jingling in his dishdasha pockets, Ben Cherifia guards the Carthage Eagles goal like a seasoned professional.
He will need to deliver an Itandje-esque performance in Yaounde, which, with his outstanding shot-stopping, he is perfectly capable of, or at the very least marshal the newly assembled backline.