By Sam Crocker (@sam_crock)
Not only a bloody good team but also the hosts, we’re going to kick things off by instantly lowering you expectations of Cameroon’s chances of getting out of the group. Proponents of the cringy group “samba” celebration by the corner flag and lots the run around with both index fingers pointing towards the sky, you’ve got to imagine that Indomitable Lions fans will be feeling as viewers of this game that you may spend more time than you want to screaming “CRAP CELEBRATION” at the TV.
Whilst I could go into the overused clichés of the whole of the Brazil team “loving the ball” as the samba around the pitch balancing the ball on their head like a seal, as their centre backs attempt to do Cruyff turn on their own goal line, sadly that may not be appropriate. Despite there being fewer clamours of discontent that the team that was under the tutelage of Dunga received with his two defensive midfielders, Luis Filipe Scolari has long known roughly who his favourite starting line-up is, and has executed this game-after-game in the various friendlies that the hosts have had to play as replacements for actual qualifying.
Operating in a 4-3-3 system, their best position in terms of “sambaness” is the front 3. A genuine 4-3-3 – where they front three are all strikers with two of the two operating on the wings – ex-Man-City-flop Jo is surrounded by the enigma of Hulk and ex-YouTube player Neymar. Providing much fluidity between the three of them, Brazil have certainly never struggled scoring goals. And with the likes of Bernard, Lucas Moura and (perhaps not so much) Alexandre Pato able to come off the bench, Nicolas N’Koulou and friends knees will be clacking together at the prospect of facing these guys.
With a midfield 3 of Oscar, Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho behind them, perhaps Cameroon’s best chance will be to exploit the wings. With Dani Alves and Maxwell sambaing forward with their fancy overlaps, Moukandjo and Eto’o could certainly have some fun in the wide areas if Finke does decide to go with some actual widemen for once.
Verdict: Itandje and co are probably better off pinning their hopes of points on another match.
Guaranteed attendees at every World Cup due to the fact that everyone around them in their qualification is a bit crap, Mexico will be making the southern journey to Brazil after overcoming Winston Reid and friends in a playoff match against New Zealand, qualifying as Cameroon’s opponents in the first game in Natal this summer.
Playing an exciting 3-5-2 kind of thing, Oribe Peralta will be the one that Finke will need to shut down with his plethora of defensive quality if he is to keep Itandje from picking too many out of his own net. What some might call a “late developer”, he has a phenomenal record in the 28 caps he has for his country so far, scoring 15 goals at the age of 29, with a similarly impressive record for Santos Laguna also.
Indeed, he is not the only attaching threat to fear, with some names more familiar to those from Europe also needing to be feared. Javier Hernandez of course will almost certainly pop up at the back post for a tap-in if his marker doesn’t keep an eye on him, whilst Gio Dos Santos will be hoping to keep up his good form for Villareal when it comes to appearing for his country in Brazil.
When it comes to weaknesses, the defence once again looks suspect for Mexico. Conceding in a number of their matches leading up to the tournament, reliance on the likes of Carlos Salcido and Rafael Marques at the back will make young whippersnappers such as Eric Choupo-Moting rub his hands together, as their ageing slowness is certainly something that Cameroon could exploit. Indeed, playing Mexico first in their group is probably for the best. A team they could definitely get a result against, you’d be hoping that their strong defence will be able to keep out Mexico’s attacking talents, and if Eto’o is feeling bothered on the day he could rip this team apart.
Verdict: Definitely beatable, and the best side Cameroon could hope for in the opening match.
Another side that needed a playoff to achieve their place at the World Cup, Croatia overcame Iceland over two legs after a fairly unconvincing qualifying campaign from the Eastern Europeans. Due to face Brazil in the first game of the tournament in Sao Paulo, Cameroon will be hoping they are overcome by the occasion and get a bad start before they play them in the second match.
Considering the team that they put on when you look at it on paper, it is difficult to really identify a particularly strong or weak spot, as they are a fairly strong side throughout the team. Operating in a 4-5-1 system, I guess you’d have to call Mario Mandzukic as the one you’d want to look out for, as the Croatian has been leading the line of the official steamrollers of the Bundesliga Bayern Munich to great effect for the past few seasons. But those around too certainly aren’t bad, with Kovacic of Inter Milan behind him feeding him the bal, supporting by Rakitic and Modric lying slightly deeper.
Not necessarily the strongest on the wings, with neither Ivica Olic nor Ivan Perisic natural wingers, this is complimented by Dario Srna and Daniel Pranjic roving forward in support from the back to provide more natural width. Also, whilst their first choice defence is looks very solid, the replacements in the centre for Corluka and Lovren will not be players that will concern the front line of Cameroon.
Whilst traditionally a very good team in tournaments like this and often performing above expectations, the centre of the park will be where Cameroon will look to make their mark. With the likes of Makoun and Song definitely able to shutdown the creative talents of their two deep lying playmakers, Croatia’s lack of width may be their downfall against the Indomitable Lions, giving an air of hope for the Africans.
Verdict: A tough opener against the hosts could put Croatia mentally right into Cameroon’s hands. Whilst beatable, they could also provide a tough task.