by Salim Masoud Said
The names Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song immediately stand out when looking at the Cameroon team sheet. That was the case when the starting XI was announced before Sunday night’s game versus Germany, where Cameroon came away with an encouraging 2-2 draw.
The return of Eto’o to the team for the first time in their pre-World Cup preparations, was the major headline. The team simply has an unexplainable aura when he’s on the field and they lack it without him.
Behind Eto’o, Song is the second most-known name in the team. But Song was overwhelmed by a superior German midfield and had a quiet game, and was most notable for making a few eye-wincing, World Cup-ending tackles.
For all their importance to the team, the distinguished duo were outshined on the evening by the understated 25-year-old pair of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Benjamin Moukandjo. With Choupo-Moting on the left and Moukandjo on the right, the two showed a lethal blend of speed and razzle-dazzle that entertained the crowd and rattled Germany.
The Indomitable Lions have, quite rightly, been billed as disorganised, ponderous and bereft of edge-of-your-seat thrillers. The team is defined by the achievements of yesteryear, but those memories fade with each World Cup.
Assuming they use tactics and personnel similar to the ones vs. Germany, the abundance of previews and World Cup guides may leave fans scratching their collective heads. Instead of the attacking style that many have predicted for Cameroon, this team is content sit back and absorb possession in their brand new 4-5-1 underdog formation,
Choupo-Moting and Moukandjo were the main outlets for the Lions on either flank. Up the field, they pressed in a way that is prevalent in the German Bundesliga to great effect. The tactic is a favorite of Cameroon manager Volker Finke.
Regal, direct, with the fleet-footedness to fashion chances for himself, Choupo-Moting is a hybrid of a winger and striker — not quite touchline-hugging to launch crosses in, not quite complete enough to lead the line. As his 12 goals in 26 caps suggest, though, he has the dead-eye to finish plays when he needs.
Choupo-Moting, though, seems to have suffered the misfortune of being typecast as a super-sub at both club and international levels, through no particular fault of his own. For modest Mainz, he has been kept out of the starting lineup by the brilliant form of Shinji Okazaki and Nicolai Muller this season, yet he has still managed an impressive 5 goals in 13 games from the bench.
Until recently, it had been the similar story at international level. Despite his goal return, Eto’o’s preference to play on the left has meant the 25-year-old has had to accept a place on the bench, becoming nothing more than a late, speedster option to run at weary legs.
Yet after being one of the few shining spots in the yawn-worthy warm-up friendlies against Macedonia and Paraguay, the Mainz man is increasingly becoming the main man for the national team. His equaliser against Germany, his third in as many games, surely cements his position in the starting XI vs. Mexico. He took his latest goal with a blunt and remorseless style. Given the invitation to run at the defence, he took four touches and fired it low, forensically past Roman Weidenfeller.
If the Hamburg-born Choupo-Moting provides that refined productivity and German precision, then Moukandjo provides the pizzazz. World Cup enthusiasts inundated with 24-hour coverage will want to be entertained, and Moukandjo may just be the crowd warmer.
With the career path and rawness of a momentary football sensation, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say Moukandjo would have fit into the fabled Cameroon 1990 side. Like Cyrille Makanaky, his backstory of mystery and mystique is one that makes the World Cup such a captivating, other-worldly experience.
In France, where he is languishing in the second tier with Nancy-Lorraine, he is seen as raw and wasteful, a dribbling merchant lacking the bigger-picture awareness and tactical discipline to play at the very top level.
Cameroon, on the other hand, embrace his flamboyance and flaws. The regular indecision that clouds his vision is forgiven when a stepover or two, and the rare decisive moment, is enough to entice and enchant the home crowd. You would suspect the fans in Brazil and viewers at home looking for entertainment will enjoy it as well.
Choupo-Moting and Moukandjo may not be the biggest names in the squad, but they’re now arguably there with Eto’o and Song in terms of structural importance. Without both of them, Cameroon will render to playing the cumbersome, narrow football lacking variation, vigour and width.
With them in the team, there is a clear counter-attacking strategy that, backed with a fearsome midfield, a respectable defensive unit and the ripening high pressing, may just be able spring a surprise or two and give viewers more Cameroon moments to remember. Given the abjectness of the performances since 1990, that would qualify as success in itself.