World Cup play offs: second leg observations

makoun Indomitable Lions lionised This was the game where the Indomitable Lions reactivated their famed lionised state of mind. Preparations for the game had been ideal.  Samuel Eto’o had joined up with the squad on time! Stayed in the same hotel as them!! And, pre-game, he had enough self-restraint to only allow energising, patriotic soundbites to spew out of his mouth!!! On the pitch, Samuel Eto’o actually played for the team – he dropped deep to link well with the midfielders, he dribbled productively rather than as a means of holding the ball as long as he could, and he sparked the crowd to higher volumes with his arms-hoisting. Holistically, Cameroon morphed into a side which played with the serene laxity that had enchanted the masses at World Cup 1990.

Tactically, Finke proved that he was astute. When Tunisia scored early in the second half and had a good spell, he summoned Eric Maxim Choupo Moting, whose shot presented Jean Makoun with the goal that sealed the victory, for the beaming Pierre Achille Webo which stretched a tired Tunisian defence. And he brought on the defensively-minded Danny Nonkeu at right-back to replace Stephane Mbia in the 67th minute.

Successive failures to qualify for Afcons have made Cameroon disintegrate in recent years, but this could be the game that galvanises them. Of course, there is a lot of work to be done until the World Cup. And this performance came against a Tunisia side that was poor on the day – but let’s not forget that this is still a decent Tunisia side which, whilst boring to watch, regularly manages to qualify Afcons and, had it not been for ineligible player incompetence by Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde, essentially won their group at a canter.

Lamouchi’s failure to react could have cost the Ivory Coast

It wasn’t that Lamouchi was slow to react; it’s that he didn’t react at all. And it could have easily cost Ivory Coast a place in the World Cup. The Ivorians were second best from the 1st minute to the last, and bar the wasteful finishing of Senegal and the right-place-right-time intelligence of Didier Zokora, it’s hard to envisage that they would have escaped from the game with a draw.

It’s populist to talk about mental or psychological scarring when it comes to the mere mention of the Ivory Coast, but their atypical lack of chemistry in Casablanca was purely tactical. Without the thuggery of the suspended duo Serey Die and Cheick Tiote in the double pivot, Romaric and Gosso Gosso were second best all evening in the midfield battle and, particularly negated by the maelstrom of Idrissa Gueye, at no point did they look like retaining it. Proven, experienced options to turn around their fortunes were lacking on the bench. On the few occasions they surged forward Yaya Toure was typically slow to oblige to his defensive duties and the Ivorian midfield was completely overran as Senegal countered. Reshuffling your defence mid-way through the game is inadvisable, of course, but the performance was so jittery that it was perhaps worth moving Zokora into defensive midfield and Kolo Toure from right-back to rekindle his partnership with Sol Bamba at the core of the defence.

With the midfield non-existent and Gervinho, their main creative outlet, just about passing a fitness test, the Ivorians struggled to transition to attack. Didier Drogba’s only decent contribution to the match was an acrobatic defensive clearance and giving away a penalty. Despite all that, and having the likes of Lacina Traore, Wilfried Bony and Seydou Doumbia on the bench, Lamouchi did not act. You fear if Lamouchi repeats this sort of tactical negligence  at the World Cup, they will be severely punished.

Blida, Mustapha Tchaker, the key to qualification for Les Fennecs

Algeria and Burkina Faso ended up playing the tightest play-off tie. The victor progressed through fine details. You can’t help thinking that if Bakary Kone’s clearance flew a few inches to a side, Algeria wouldn’t have scored. If El Arbi Hilel Soudani botched his clearance a little more, Burkina would have equalized in the final few seconds. If the referee had his specs on, he would have sent off Madjid Bougherra for a ridiculous Jet Li style tackle on Charles Kabore.

And yet when things are as tight as they were, it takes a mammoth effort to tip the balance of luck in your favour. These matters aren’t determined by chance. It took every vibrating vocal chord in Mustapha Tchaker to put sufficient pressure on Badara Diatta so as to not send off Bougherra. It took every cent of the Algerian FA to ensure the comfort of every player so as to make sure they perform to a certain standard.

At Blida you could see that the entire nation was desperate to qualify. When such a want manifests itself as exertion you tend to tip the scales of fortune in your favour; and that’s how you win the minute details. That is why Stade Mustapha Tchaker is the fortress that it is, and that is why Algeria are going to their fourth world cup.

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