The group stages of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup have concluded as Portugal, Mexico, Germany, and Chile all advanced to the semi-finals. In my previous article, I predicted Cameroon to be the surprise team in the tournament, led by Vincent Aboubakar. Finishing at the bottom of Group A and scoring only two goals, however, was far from a pleasant surprise.
To label the performance of the Indomitable Lions as abysmal is quite harsh. But they were definitely subpar in my eyes. As I watched their first match against Chile, their style of play seemed different, different to the African style of football I am accustomed to seeing. I noticed an organizational element to their game, as they passed from the back and had slow, patient build-up play. Many African teams have been criticized for lacking that defensive discipline required in major international tournaments. Their defensive gameplan against Chile almost prevailed until the last 10 minutes of the game, where they conceded two goals. Cameroon looked very promising against Australia in their second group game, scoring a fine goal right before halftime, but the match ended in a 1-1 draw after a successful conversion of a penalty.
But Cameroon’s attack-laden approach didn’t diminish after the equalizer, yet they did not capitalize on the chances created. And Aboubakar was responsible for those missed chances. Their hopes of advancing to the semi-finals were slim and were eventually foiled by the young German team in their third group game loss to coach Joachim Löw’s team.
But in the game against Australia, I was pleased to see the attacking side of Cameroon. However, I still felt it was a “controlled” attack. In African football, I am used to seeing the speed of wingers being direct and running at and past players, as well as physicality in the midfield. What I saw was slow, patient build-up play in the midfield and a constant loss of possession. I didn’t watch Cameroon play in the AFCON so maybe this is how they typically play. Anyways, I felt Cameroon didn’t play to their strengths enough, which was their attackers in Aboubakar, Christian Bassogog, and Benjamin Moukandjo. If they had midfielders that were good at maintaining possession, then they could have the luxury to adopt that playing style and utilize their attackers for taking on defenders. The absence of veteran midfielders, such as the retired Jean Makoun and the excluded “troublemaker” Alex Song, could have fortified the midfield. And the absence of marquee players such as defenders Joel Matip, Allan Nyom, Nicolas Nkoulou, and striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (all players that refused to play for their national team in recent years) could have elevated the team’s overall performance level in the tournament. But I laud Head Coach Hugo Broos for seeking unknown Cameroonian players and adding them to the squad.
Overall, Cameroon’s performance in the Confederations Cup could have been a lot better. Their style of play was a little too tepid for my liking at times, but it did demonstrate a more controlled, possession-reliant game that I later came to respect and see its merits. An attention to defense was also evident. If the Cameroonian national team didn’t have the problem of key players refusing to play for their national team, then their success in the tournament could’ve been a different story.
Could we be looking at the new blueprint for African football? Could other African teams follow suit and exhibit more possession and patient build-up play? The 2018 FIFA World Cup will tell.