By Sam Crocker
Arriving in Egypt as Africa Cup of Nations champions, it would be recommended to apply this title only cosmetically, given the relative lack of expectation on their shoulders.
Botching their way to an unexpected victory in Gabon in 2017, Hugo Broos’ side defied pre-tournament expectations, combining a group of unknowns and not-good-enoughs with rough gems and genuine talent, in what was one of the most open tournaments in years.
Having had the humiliation of their hosting rights stripped from them at the end of 2018 – victims of CAF’s late decision to expand the tournament to 24 teams amidst prior infrastructure challenges – it will be up to now-manager Clarence Seedorf to cajole his talented but unpredictable side.
Indeed, their new celebrity manager has taken a lot of the attention off his team’s performances on the pitch since taking over. Seedorf made some controversial comments shortly after taking over, apparently unwilling to pick players who ply their trade in China or Asia.
Whilst he has rowed back on these comments, with China-based Christian Bassogog remaining in the team, the damage appears to have already been done – following Benjamin Moukandjo’s retirement from international football, despite only being 30.
Drifting through one of the more difficult qualifying groups, finishing in second behind Morocco, Moukandjo’s absence has been called into question given their lack of firepower. Scoring just six goals in six games – only one more than bottom placed Comoros – hopes were riding on Vincent Aboubakar’s return but he missed most of the season following knee surgery and was ruled out of the AFCON.
Sticking with the traditional 4-3-3 deployed by both Broos and Finke before him, Seedorf places emphasis on the speed of the forwards to provide thrust on the counter. 2017 MVP Christian Bassogog provides a terrifying proposition going forward, whilst Karl Toko Ekambi or Eric Choupo-Moting will marshall the other flank, are more likely to cut inside.
The midfield is packed full of warriors as usual, Andre-Frank Zambo-Anguissa the only real attacking threat. The defence is pretty solid, with Collins Fai and Gaetan Bong likely to provide ample support when in possession.
Goalkeepers – In a throwback to JoJo Bell and Thomas Nkono, Cameroon are blessed with two very talented young goalkeepers. Andre Onana has asserted himself as Seedorf’s number one with some justification, following some sublime performance’s for Ajax that have made him one of Europe’s hot goalkeeping properties.
Fabrice Ondoa held the gloves under Finke and Broos and put in consistently exceptional performances for his country, accumulating almost 40 caps for his country, despite a stuttering life at club level – holding the rare achievement of having more career international caps than domestic appearances.
Both excellent goalkeepers, the two 23-year-old cousins will provide an excellent insurance policy that Indomitable Lions fans can rely upon.
Lack of creativity – A common problem for Cameroon in recent years, the lack of attacking prowess continues to be an issue. A problem that Seedorf spoke about earlier this year, it is not a lack of talent amongst his strikers that is the issue, but rather further back amongst his midfield ranks.
With a deluge of defensive midfielders to choose from – with Seedorf still somehow managing to find more uncapped wardrobes to pull on the Cameroon shirt – the connection between midfield and attack can make their offensive play stunted and painful to watch. Zambo-Anguissa is the only one with any real creativity in his locker, but having just ended a desperately poor season for Fulham, how high his confidence will be remains to be seen.
With this year’s expansion, Cameroon will now be forced to control possession more often against the increased number of weaker sides. This will not suit their game, so will rely heavily on their front three to produce anything.
Christian Bassogog was an unlikely hero in 2017. He headed into the tournament plying his football in Denmark and being virtually unknown, only to come out at the end of it being named the official Player of the Tournament. With Aboubakar ruled out they will certainly need his star quality.
The Hipster’s Choice
In amongst the revolving door policy that is Cameroon’s midfield, Georges Mandjeck has remained broadly consistent for the past few years. An under-the-radar career that has seen him live the true African footballer hipster life (evidence: he’s currently on loan at Maccabi Haifa from Sparta Prague) his strong and solid presence means that Cameroon have at least become a right faff to break down for the opposition.
Needing no introduction to his playing career, Clarence Seedorf was an intriguing choice by the Cameroon FC. Allegedly the second choice behind Sven Goran Eriksson (yeah, I know), his club managerial career does not make good reading, having failed to make the grade in a series of short stints in Italy, Spain and – most ironically – China.
A big personality in a job where managers don’t tend to last long nor get on with the FA, it’s difficult to see Seedorf sticking around should Cameroon fail to impress here. With fellow Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert as his assistant, perhaps this will be the turning point for the midfield legend.
Alongside a misfiring Ghana and tournament minnows Benin and Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon really should top their group. Likely to meet some beatable teams in the Round of 16, quarter-finals has to be the minimum expectation for them. After that, who knows.