Cameroon were written off as no-hopers for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations title before the kickoff of the tournament in Gabon on January 14.
Many drew that verdict after the Indomitable Lions were hit by the withdrawal of eight key players days before the continent’s football showpiece started.
Joel Matip (Liverpool defender), Alan Nyom (West Brom defender), Jean Eric Choupo-Moting (Schalke 04 forward), Guy Assembe (Nancy keeper), Maxime Poundje (Bordeaux defender), Andre Onana (Ajax keeper), Andre-Frank Anguissa (Marseille midfielder) and Ibrahim Amadou (Lille midfielder) refused to honour their call-ups by the Lions’ Belgian coach Hugo Broos to the tournament.
Broos had kicked captain Stephane M’bia (Hebei China Fortune) and veteran Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni out of the team and opted for younger players immediately he took over the reins at the Lions last year.
Although they were dubbed the worst Cameroon team in living memory, Broos’ men kept learning and improving as the tournament progressed.
They dumped out tournament favourites Senegal in the quarterfinals (in a shootout) and overcame Ghana 2-0 in the semifinals before coming from behind to beat record-holders Egypt 2-1 in Sunday’s final to claim their fifth African title.
With the Gabon 2017 triumph, Cameroon, who in 15 years had become also-rans in the competition since they won in 2002, are the second most successful nation in the championship’s history behind Egypt.
The entire team deserve plaudits for stepping up to the plate without eight key players to rule Gabon 2017, no doubt. But the Lions’ success owes much to the tournament’s Best Player Christian Bassogog, captain Benjamin Moukandjo and goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa. Sebastien Siani, Vincent Aboubakar, Nicolas N’Koulou and Michael Ngadeu also distinguished themselves in Gabon.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr worked as a pundit for French TV station BeIN during the tournament and must have seen the Lions’ considerable strengths and their considerable weaknesses as he prepares the Super Eagles for the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying double-header against their eternal rivals.
Nigeria host the Cameroon in the first leg qualifier in Uyo on August 28, with the Gabon 2017 champions receiving the Eagles in the reverse fixture in Limbe on September 2.
Rohr has been quoted to have said that the Eagles must work hard to earn the desired results in the fixtures.
“The road to Russia is very difficult because we must eliminate Cameroon so just like everyone can see now, Cameroon is a wonderful team,” supersport.com quoted the German as saying on Wednesday.
The former Gabon coach added, “We have strikers who can score but we must work a lot to be better. From what I saw at AFCON, Cameroon is a great team so we have to be very, very strong.”
Certainly, Rohr will be worried about the threat that Bassogog and Moukandjo could pose to the Eagles on the counter-attack, with Siani breaking up play in the middle of the pack.
Cameroon defended with great discipline in Gabon, switching between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formation with Denmark-based Bassogog posing a huge threat on the counter-attack.
Broos is likely to adopt the same approach against Nigeria, who currently lack decent fullbacks. Moukandjo each time got off the wing to occupy a central attacking role and his marauding down the channel helped the Lions against Senegal, Ghana and Egypt.
Bassogog arrived in Gabon as an unknown entity but the 21-year-old winger is no longer the same player today. The Aalborg player, who was promoted to the senior team of Cameroon just last year, started all six matches for the Lions and created havoc with his pace and trickery. He scored a late breakaway goal in a 2-0 defeat of Ghana in the semifinal to cap off his eye-catching showing in the game.
The winger will definitely give Nigeria’s defence a torrid time and Rohr will need a physical left-back who has blazing speed and an intelligent right-back to stop the Lions’ foray forward through Bassogog and Moukandjo. Mikel Obi’s experience and Oghenekaro Etebo’s strength and tenacity will also be needed by the Eagles against the players. Bassagog has scored four league goals for his Danish side this season.
Lorient forward Moukandjo represented Cameroon at the Brazil 2014 World Cup and started in all three group matches. His fighting spirit is awesome and Broos will be hoping the 28-year-old, who has scored seven goals for Lorient in the French top flight this term, rediscovers his magic touch in the double-header against Nigeria. Moukandjo is not afraid to take on defenders.
With Siani,30, who plays for Oostende in the Belgian league doing the dirty job and pushing the team forward, Cameroon forwards were always dangerous on the counter-attacks.
Ondoa’s emergence as the best keeper in Gabon didn’t come as a surprise. Although the 21-year-old has yet to feature for Sevilla’s second division team this season, that did not prevent him from making a number of important saves and becoming Gabon 2017’s best keeper.