2015 Cup of Nations review: Cameroon

By Sam Crocker

The Good

Joseph Ondoa – If there was one area that Cameroon didn’t really need to improve on after the 2014 World Cup, it was the goalkeeper. Charles Itandje had performed admirably whenever called upon for his country, defying the pure obscurity he finds himself in his club career to make some superb saves whilst on international duty, with his performance in the first leg of the World Cup playoff vs. Tunisia particularly notable. However, with young Barcelona goalkeeper Jospeh Ondoa coming in as part of the post-Brazil revamp, they’ve found yet another star who should keep the gloves for a long time.

Just 19 years of age, Ondoa proved to be Cameroon’s best player during the Africa Cup of Nations 2015, putting in some sublime performances to keep his team from being blasted out of sight and make their group stage exit even more embarrassing. Whilst Equatorial Guinea’s Felipe Ovono took much of the attention, Ondoa showed remarkable composure to adapt to the high pressure situation so well, showing a demonstrable passion for the success of his country in the process as one of the more animated members of the squad.

As long as Volker Finke and future managers keep faith with Ondoa, they have a goalkeeper readymade to take the number one jersey and make it his own, and dominate between the sticks for years and years to come.

The Bad

Edgar Salli – Minimal role in the very successful qualifying campaign and a consistent failure to perform whenever in a Cameroon shirt over the past few years, why Edgar Salli played such a continuous role in Equatorial Guinea is unclear. Yet, given a starting birth in one of the awkward attacking midfield roles that Volker Finke put in place, his ineffectiveness and diabolical finishing very much cost his country qualification. However, Edgar Salli’s performances are not the biggest issue here, with his place in the team representing the barren plain of creativity that Cameroon’s national pool possesses right now.

Floundering in various loan spells away from parent club Monaco, the attacking midfielder’s terrible performances for his country match his stuttering domestic career, having made zero appearances for Academica thus far this season. Things didn’t really get much better for Salli, as his evident rustiness came to the fore when he missed two golden opportunities to score in the final game against Ivory Coast, which eventually saw them go out. Skying almost identical chances over the bar, his general lack of impact on the game did not make up for this, and highlighted the horrific lack of inspiration coming from the middle of the pitch.

Indeed, it is a problem that has been well-known for some time. There just isn’t anyone to connect the midfield to the frontline. Salli in many ways is a scapegoat here, as he is someone who fundamentally isn’t good enough yet to play at this level, with his inclusion just highlighting what a strain it is to find any smidgen of creativity anywhere in Cameroon right now. And no, Alex Song is not the answer.

The Ugly

Its just the same old thing for Cameroon. Whilst they proved themselves to be a far more robust, together unit than they did in Brazil, you only need to look at where the goals came from to tell you where the failings lie.

A goal practically straight from a corner and Ambroise Oyongo popping up randomly six yards out were the only two times Cameroon hit the net, in what can hardly be described as “part of the plan”. The lack of goal scoring is something that has been painfully clear even in the Eto’o days, with the good quality players available just not able to gel in such a way that produces results, in a problem that you could argue to be common across the continent.

Clearly there were underperformances from certain players. Eric Choupo-Moting had a horrible tournament, caught up in this weird free role where he really struggled with, not seeming to know where to stand. Vincent Aboubakar was absent for a lot of it, occasionally creating half-chances of his own doing, but still not quite living up to the hype expected of him.

But this is a wider issue that doesn’t look like being solved soon, as the Europe’s demand for big, strong central midfielders to tackle and bustle about the pitch something that Africa has a continent has clearly suffered from, flooding the market with defensive midfielder types that don’t know how to pick a pass. The concept of the deep-lying playmaker is one that we haven’t seen in African football for a long time, and may hold back the continent’s Pele-inspired supposed imminent breakout onto the world stage. Cameroon are just a microcosm of this.

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